Survivor: Game Changers Recap: Playing With Power

It’s getting tough out there on Survivor. With the Finale fast approaching (May 24…mark your calendars!), we find ourselves down to just 10 players left in the game heading into last night’s episode. It has been a season full of big moves, aggressive strategies, and the occasional blunder. “Game Changers,” Hali stated from the jury seats after tonight’s Tribal Council. “Idiots,” Deb countered. They may both be right.

But before we try to think of an 11-letter word to describe last night’s new episode, let me first warn you that there are spoilers to follow, as we will be discussing in detail the event’s that took place during last night’s episode of Survivor: Game Changers. And while we WILL hit on all of the important developments, remember that this is more of a discussion and analysis and not a blow-by-blow account of how the episode played out.


Reinventing How This Game Is Played

So just three weeks after being outed by Jeff Varner as being transgender, Zeke Smith was blindsided and sent to the jury at the conclusion of last night’s episode. Zeke’s back-to-back run on Survivor is now over (he first appeared in the Fall on the last season of Survivor, “Millennials vs. Gen-X”).

Just like whether or not you agree with Hali (“Game Changers!”) or Deb (“Idiots!”), getting rid of Zeke was either a good move or a bad one, depending on your perspective and who you’re currently rooting for. On one hand, this is a total win for Cirie and Andrea, who already had Zeke trying to undercut their alliance and who knew that he was one of the biggest threats to their games that was remaining. If you’re Sarah or Michaela, however, this move seems to be counter-productive and questionable at best, since Zeke was the one player in the game who fully trusted Sarah and who had verbalized how he wanted Michaela with him at Final Five. While Andrea and Cirie were steering the ship, it was still Sarah who held the power and who could have swayed the game in any direction she chose…so it’s troubling that she ultimately buckled to Andrea and Cirie.

Sarah began the episode by coming clean to her former alliance that she was the one who had flipped to get rid of Deb (Zeke describing Deb as the one that they perceived was in charge, whether this was true or not). I like that Sarah is owning her game, and she’s clearly playing hard and has put herself in a good position. She even stated that she is betting on the hope that the jury will ultimately reward her cunning game-play, and will over-look some of her moves that may be considered “stabs in the back” (Deb flicked her off at Tribal Council, so that might be a sign that Sarah doesn’t quite have her finger on the pulse of the jury).

Reinventing How This Game Is Played

At one point, Sarah did try to defend her relationship with Zeke, and in an effort to gain favor with Cirie, she told her about the Secret Advantage she found…where Sarah gets to “steal” another person’s vote at Tribal and then vote twice. She tried convincing Cirie that it was in their best interest to get Sierra out now, and that they could worry about Zeke later, with the added comfort of Sarah’s extra vote. In reality, Sarah not only lost her closest ally in Zeke, but she gave Cirie even more power in the game, now that she knows the cards that Sarah is holding.

Oh, did I mention yet that CIRIE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS PLAYER IN THIS GAME! Sadly, Zeke was the only person so far this entire season that I think has even mentioned that Cirie was a target and with him gone – and with the way the game is taking shape – it is looking more and more unlikely that anybody is going to stop Cirie. The only caveat to this is Andrea, who is smart and ruthless enough herself, to where I can’t imagine a world where Andrea would want to sit next to Cirie at the end. The irony here is that Cirie may be thinking the same thing, and if history has taught us anything, Cirie usually manages to come out on top.

Reinventing How This Game Is Played

Last night’s challenge had a theme of “Reinventing how this game is played,” but I wouldn’t go that far. This has been a good season in my opinion, but I’m not sure I’ve seen enough yet to call it ground-breaking or earth-shattering when it comes to game-play. There have been remnants of the “voting bloc” – the newest voting strategy that first showed up during “Second Chances” – that have appeared more and more as this season has gone on, but for the most part I think that returning players help make the game more cutthroat…people definitely are less and less scared to make a big move, although Sarah had a real opportunity to shake the game up had she valued her alliance with Zeke over that of Cirie/Andrea.

Reinventing How This Game Is Played

Michaela, too, was shown as in Sarah‘s corner and was not at all enthusiastic about voting out Zeke. She actually got quite emotional and broke down in tears watching Zeke leave the game, and that’s definitely not a side of Michaela we’ve seen all that much of.

At this point in the game, it’s clear that Michaela is not going to win the game…not enough players seem to like her or have formed strong enough bonds with her. She is a good “goat” candidate for some of the other players to get to the end. But had Sarah utilized Michaela, together with Zeke and the minority alliance of Brad, Tai, and Troyzan, Sarah could have had numbers to do whatever she wanted, even if Sierra pledged her vote completely to Cirie and Andrea. By allowing Zeke to get voted out, Sarah is putting a good deal of stock in her relationship with Cirie and Andrea, hoping that she can still fall back on her old alliance with Brad and company if things go sour. But what she’s really doing is sabotaging her game to the point that when and if she does make it to Final Five or Six, she will be relying on having to win challenges in order to survive, because she will most likely be a main target of every other player, in any combination, and she’ll probably be the only one without a really close ally left in the game at that time. I’m not counting her out, but her decisions these past two weeks have – in my opinion – lowered her power status in the game while increasing that of Cirie and Andrea’s…two players that would cut Sarah out in an instant should they want to.

We’ll have to see the thought-pattern behind the votes, but I thought it was interesting that Brad, Troyzan, and Sierra all cast votes for Tai, who is in their alliance…this may not sit well with sensitive Tai. Remember – he still has two Idols, and they’re becoming more and more valuable the deeper he gets into the game. Troyzan has an Idol as well, let’s not forget.

Reinventing How This Game Is Played

Episode Take-Away: Chatting with my wife after the episode, we were trying to discuss who we thought would actually win this season, and if we would be satisfied with the prospective winner. We both concluded that there are really only four of the remaining nine contestants that have a real shot of winning the game. Who are the other five that have no shot? Michaela. Troyzan. Aubry (whom we both love, but whom we are both disappointed in as far as game-play goes this season). I think Tai has a compelling path to victory but my wife disagreed that anybody would vote for him to win a season called “Game Changers.” I on the other hand don’t think Sierra has done enough to win, but my wife thinks that depending on how the rest of her game goes, that she may have a shot. That leaves only Cirie (who’ve I’ve talked about ad nauseam), Andrea, Brad, or Sarah. And quite honestly, we both whole-heartedly agreed that we’d be happy with any of these four winning the game. Personally, I feel like I’m rooting for Sarah since she has had the most tumultuous game, and even though I have always loved Cirie and she’ll always be one of my favorites, I find myself rooting against her since she seems to have had such an easy path thus far.

But what do you think? Do you agree with our assessments?

Zeke is now gone and it’s starting to be Cirie and Andrea‘s game to lose. Don’t look now but Andrea has also now won two individual Immunity Challenges. We have just two episodes left leading up to the two-hour Finale on May 24, and if this season’s past is any indication, there is still a lot of game left to be changed.

Reinventing How This Game Is Played

Strategic Move of the Week: Andrea really drove things towards voting out Zeke, and from her perspective, it was a great, huge move. And it worked.

Voted out this week: Zeke

Won Immunity: Andrea

Vote: No Idols or advantages played. 5 – Zeke (Andrea, Cirie, Sarah, Aubry, Michaela), 3 – Tai (Brad, Troyzan, Sierra), 2 – Sierra (Tai, Zeke)

Next Week’s Episode: Was that Sierra and Sarah bonding on the beach? Was that Michaela smiling and feeling good about her place in the game? Are some new alliances forming? All of these questions will be answered, and it is also the emotional “Loved Ones” challenge next week. See you right back here next Wednesday, and bring the tissues!

VERY Important Note! I regret to inform you that there will be no usual Exit Interview this week with Zeke Smith…but there WILL still be a new episode of the Podcast. As I was writing this article, I was informed by CBS that, per Zeke’s request, they are limiting his exit press this week. I don’t have word on why exactly, but I can assume that it is due to all of the questions I’m sure he’s going to have to face dealing with the whole Jeff Varner situation and him being outed as transgender. CBS did allow me to email him one question, and I will reveal it and read his answer on the Podcast Thursday (if I don’t have it in time, I will include it in my coverage next week). But sadly I will not have the opportunity to chat with Zeke this week.

In lieu of that, again, the FilmSurvivor Podcast will still be a go on Thursday, where I will discuss this week’s episode and set us up for next week. Last but not least, I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews, as this week you can read my review of the new “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” 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