Survivor: Game Changers Recap: Smiles Before the Bloodbath

“Double Episodes” seem to happen at least once or twice every season on Survivor, usually during the very first night and then again sometimes post-merge. In seasons past, the “double-episode” seemed like a way for the producers to fly through what might otherwise be thought of as a boring episode, or a predictable Tribal Council. During Season 33, I ate my words in this regard, as we were given two of the best, most memorable Tribals of that season (forgive me for not remembering them off-hand, but look it up…I remember it as being awesome) during a back-to-back episode night.

Tonight’s latest two episodes of Survivor: Game Changers didn’t disappoint and things were far from predictable. But before we gather our troops and prepare to go to war, please be warned that there are spoilers to follow, as we will be discussing in detail the events that took place during tonight’s double-episode of Survivor: Game Changers.


There's A New Sheriff in Town

With tonight’s two-hours of Survivor being single back-to-back episodes, there’s a lot to discuss. And for those keeping score at home, just a friendly reminder that this is more of a “reactionary” column…I’m coming from a place where I’m assuming we’ve all seen the show (and again if you haven’t, please do before reading this). I don’t find it necessary to go through each episode moment-by-moment. Yes, I’ll recap and highlight the big events, but it’s much more interesting and fulfilling to me to discuss the show on a gut level, and to break down the strategies and game-play that we see unfold. I like trying to make sense of what just happened, analyze what was really going on and just bask in the glory that is Survivor. This season is ripe for the picking when it comes to talking strategy, because we really do have a cast of Game Changers who are all playing the game at an extremely high level.

The shock and awe following last week’s emotionally-charged episode was still lingering as tonight’s first episode began, where Varner outed Zeke as being transgender in a desperate attempt at Tribal to somehow make Zeke look deceitful. But Zeke himself gave us a nice pivot during tonight’s opening minutes when he said, “Let’s just get back to it.” In his honor, let’s follow those words.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

First off, the major development tonight was of course the #Merge. It came with a twist, where both Tai and Culpepper volunteered to sit out of the traditional merge feast, because they had to in order for the others to eat. I liked this twist, because choice is always good. And it paid dividends. Culpepper reasoned that it’s what his wife Monica would have done (leading CBS to flash the #WWMD hashtag), but Cirie took it as a calculated game move.  Tai, well he’s just Tai…being selfless is sort of what he does.

The merge – and the first few Tribals that follow – are always an exciting part of the game, because it is during this crucial time period where the endgame is set in motion. The idea that Survivor is an individual game for a million dollars comes quickly into focus, and quite often we can trace a winner’s path to a huge move that was made at or just following the merge. As I predicted earlier in my Preview article (which I’m sure everybody read…), Michaela was quickly singled out as a target. She hasn’t been shown as having too many allies, she’s a physical threat and she also hasn’t been fitting in socially. For many, this made her a target, but she found an amazing ally tonight in Cirie. For those that may have forgotten let me say it clearly and in all caps: CIRIE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS PLAYER IN THE GAME. As I also pointed out earlier today, Cirie was also the only person who miraculously had not been to a single Tribal Council this season until tonight. We haven’t had a chance to see her really play, and she’s been able to spend her first twenty-some days in the game focusing on nothing but relationship building.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

In Michaela, Cirie saw someone she could relate to, whom she genuinely liked, but as Cirie herself said earlier in the episode: Everything that happens in the game of Survivor is calculated. Cirie sees Michaela as a loyal soldier, and after saving her ass during tonight’s first Tribal Council, a loyal soldier is exactly what Michaela became. But there was benefit in it too for Michaela…not only did she stay in the game, but she’s learning first-hand wisdom from one of the true greats to ever play the game (socially and mentally…Cirie is not exactly what you would call a physical threat).

As most merge episodes do, there was a lot of time spent tonight showing bonds forming between the different players. It emerged that there are basically two factions, each with a pretty solid core alliance. On one hand, you have Team Brad/Sierra, who seem to have Tai, Deb and Troyzan firmly on their side. The other side would be Team Cirie/Andrea, followed by Aubry, Michaela and Ozzy (voted out). With Hali now gone as well (becoming the first member of the jury), that leaves Sarah and Zeke in the middle…and Sarah seemed at least for the moment to have sided with Brad, Sierra and company. I say “for the moment” because the preview for next week’s ep shows that Sarah is really just on Team Sarah and isn’t afraid to shift her loyalties to further her own game.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

It was incredibly interesting to me tonight to watch just how strong many of the remaining players are. There are way too many cooks in the kitchen right now, or too many Generals and not enough soldiers. You have Andrea and Cirie who are trying to control the game, and this rubs Zeke the wrong way because Zeke wants total control. So he tries to take the reigns and tells Sierra that Andrea and Cirie mentioned her name. But Sierra is too strong-willed of a player and wants to control the game herself! She doesn’t buy Zeke’s story, so she tries to take the game into her own hands by going across enemy lines to Cirie, telling her about Zeke. Elsewhere, Zeke tries recruiting Deb to vote out Andrea, but Deb is nobody’s soldier either, so what does she do? She throws out Ozzy‘s name and eventually gets her way. It was like a weird domino effect of independent-minded players…like watching bumper cars ricochet off one another. Right now these players are all dead-locked, but we know that something has to give.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

Ultimately Hali had to go, and she did. I must say that Hali continued to impress me for her boldness during the Tribal Councils, but unfortunately she just must not have the social skills back at camp, as she was never really able to connect with anybody else. She of course was the poster-child this season for being an “undeserved” Game Changer, and while she definitely showed a bit more than her first season, Hali never really did anything this time around either to make us think she belonged here. She was definitely spirited at Tribals, but she never had a true ally. Her final pitch – in her parting words – was that the others were dumb not to take out bigger threats? That may be true, but the idea that even Hali thinks Hali isn’t a big threat is exactly the reason why I say she never really belonged this season, and was not the same caliber of contestant.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

Ozzy on the other hand, is a bona fide Survivor legend, but watching him this season was like watching an aging boxer fighting a fight late in his career. Sure he still can hang with the big boys, but he’s lost a little spring in his step, he’s just a little less tough, a little bit slower, than he once was. That was evident tonight when he lost the “Get A Grip” Immunity Challenge for the first time…a challenge he had previously won two other times. Ozzy doesn’t lose that challenge in Ozzy’s prime. And is there anything more old-school than thinking that you’re valuable because you know how to fish and provide for your camp-mates? It’s clear that Ozzy is a fan-favorite, otherwise he wouldn’t have been asked back for this, his fourth season. But even though he now holds the record for most days played in Survivor – 128 – the title of Sole Survivor remains elusive for him.

Ozzy‘s demise is obviously a blow for Team Cirie/Andrea, but man would I be scared of Cirie if I were any of the others. Did I mention that CIRIE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS PLAYER IN THE GAME? Her in-game awareness and social skills were evident tonight, and even though she lost Ozzy, she eerily seemed in total control throughout both episodes. I mean, Ozzy gets voted out and Cirie votes for Sierra, announcing as she writes the vote that she’s just doing it to “spice things up a bit”? This throw-away vote could be a way for Cirie to keep Zeke close, because she can now say to him that she didn’t try to vote him out. She may have seen the writing-on-the-wall with Ozzy and decided not to burn that bridge with Zeke. Zeke – who was just gunning for Cirie and Andrea – may ironically end up needing Cirie since he doesn’t have an alliance anymore…and Cirie may just need him to replace Ozzy, her fallen soldier.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

Episode Take-Away: The lines have now been drawn and it seems clear that we have Sarah and Zeke somewhere in the middle of two warring factions. The reasons they are both there though, are totally opposite from one another. Zeke has put himself out on an island, where neither tribe has faith in him anymore…it’s a serious blow to Zeke who just had seemed galvanized with his tribe following last week’s events. Sarah is in the middle by design…she is playing a great game, and don’t forget she had forged a secret alliance with Troyzan a few weeks back. Troyzan of course still has an Idol, and he also once stated that he’s only with Brad out of necessity, because they were the only two men at his tribe. Sarah is in a great position of power but like Zeke, she’ll need to be careful not to overplay her hand.

We were also given a reminder that Sierra still has the Legacy Advantage, and because she didn’t use it at 13 players she can now only use it at six. Deb used her “double vote” advantage earned on the Exile Yacht, and while it didn’t seem to be necessary, it did hedge Deb’s bet a bit…had Cirie voted for Zeke like was expected and had Sarah chosen to go against him as well instead of for Ozzy, then Deb’s vote would have been entirely necessary.

Tonight we saw a sign of things to come and one thing that was evident to me was that several players are going to have to make big moves down the stretch…otherwise their resumes will not be impressive enough to win jury votes. Troyzan for example, is currently seen as a tag-along. And as much as I love her, what has Aubry done? And in a season full of big moves and impending blindsides, could Tai be poised for an upset win? The dude just outlasted Ozzy to win an Immunity Necklace, and with 11 left in the game he still has two Idols in his possession and surely won’t be the target of anyone anytime soon.

There's A New Sheriff in Town

Strategic Move of the Week: Deb saw a great opportunity to switch things up and vote out Ozzy, but for me the subtle game-play from Cirie tonight has to be commended. First she pulls in Michaela and saves her game, earning a loyal ally in the process. And to have strong enough relationships across enemy lines, like with Sierra who came to Cirie to tell her about Zeke flipping, that’s a sign of a powerful, rock-solid social game. Cirie even went on to compare her tribe-mates to her kids, after losing the challenge and telling them that she is heart-broken that she couldn’t provide for her “children.” With Ciera Eastin out of the game, there’s nobody left that would ever vote out their mom, right?

Voted out this week: Hali and Ozzy

Won Immunity:  Andrea (first challenge) and Tai (second challenge)

Vote #1: No Idol Played. 7 – Hali (Sierra, Brad, Troyzan, Deb, Ozzy, Aubry, Tai), 4 – Michaela (Cirie, Sarah, Zeke, Andrea), 2 – Zeke (Hali, Michaela)

Vote #2: No Idol Played, Deb cast her “extra vote” advantage. 7 – Ozzy (Sarah, Tai, Brad, Sierra, Troyzan, Deb, Deb), 4 – Zeke (Andrea, Aubry, Michaela, Ozzy), 1 – Sierra (Cirie), 1 – Aubry (Zeke)

Next Week’s Episode: The “gloves are off” and the Team Brad/Sierra alliance looks invincible…that is, until Sarah reveals to Zeke that she may have other plans.

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