Survivor: Game Changers Recap: We, Me and Cirie

Michaela had a big night tonight, full of quotable one-liners. But her line at Tribal Council, that this is a “we” game until the moment it becomes a “me” game speaks to the underlying heart of this competition show. Jeff Probst reacted to this statement with a grin and a “wow,” knowing that this young spit-fire just pretty much summed up Survivor in a nut shell.

There were some beers, tears and cheers on tonight’s “loved ones” episode (and maybe even a few jeers), but before we get ahead of ourselves, make sure you know that there are spoilers to follow, so only proceed if you have seen Episode 12 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.


It's Not a High Without a Low

Yes, like the wave that snuck up on Jeff Probst and knocked him over (still one of my favorite moments of “Millennials vs. Gen-X“), this game continued its unpredictability tonight, as nobody can seem to find their footing this season (see what I did there?  Ahem…). Right after Sarah flipped the game by voting out Zeke last week, the tide seemed to turn for a minute…but it ended up being a classic Survivor fake-out. Michaela was at the center of it all, first angrily kicking the Reward Challenge itself after losing and then ultimately finding herself sitting pretty as the swing vote – along with Tai – by the episode’s end. Like Sarah did in week’s past, she faced a tough cross-roads in the game and wasn’t sure which way to go. But I’m here to explain that it appears she made the wrong move tonight in voting out Sierra instead of Andrea…it all started at the “loved ones” Reward Challenge.

The tried-and-true “loved ones” challenge usually brings forth groans or sobs, depending on how in touch one is with their own emotions. I’ll admit that I get a little…shall we say, “allergic”…sometimes when watching these emotional moments. I’m a family man and not one to hold back my feelings…add to that, that we were raised as huggers, kissers, talkers and criers (if you’re Italian like me, you’ll understand). I can only imagine what it would be like to be away – with no contact whatsoever – from all of my loved ones for over a month. The mere sight of a loved one after all that time…I’m just sayin’ I understand the emotion.

It's Not a High Without a Low

At the same time, I totally get the eye-rolls. Sometimes the “loved ones” challenge is pure cheese, or in some cases in seasons’ past, have led to uncomfortable exchanges or insights into certain players. The rarest of rare “loved ones” challenges actually impact the game strategically, as it did with the famous Jonny Fairplay “sick grandma” lie that led to him getting much further into the game than he might have otherwise. At its best, it’s a reminder to us at home that these are real people and often times it is very interesting to see these players act “real” around people they can be themselves around.

It's Not a High Without a Low

For some reason, tonight’s rendition didn’t strike me as cheesy at all…and in fact, it was pretty powerful. I for one, did not know that Andrea had lost a sister, and then moments later, seeing Aubry and her sister talk about the important bond between siblings…my allergies started acting up. Sarah broke down at the sight of her husband (which led to Sierra awkwardly announcing how hot she thought he was). Michaela cried at the sight of her mom, Candy. Sierra’s dad reminded her to remain thick-skinned in the face of adversity. We got to meet Tai‘s partner, Mark (now we know who that chicken was named after…). Troyzan embraced his older brother, Todd (Todd-zan?). We learned that Cirie missed her son, Jerry’s, graduation to play Survivor this time around. And Monica Culpepper! What a sight for sore eyes…speaking of sore eyes, there wasn’t a dry eye in my house at least when Brad seemed to melt into his wife’s arms.

It's Not a High Without a Low

But despite all of the love and emotion, the “loved ones” challenge didn’t seem to have much strategic impact on the game. Perhaps the only thing that can be pulled from it was a bit of foreshadowing, when Monica – a former two-time player herself who made it all 39 days of “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” – told her husband to pull in Michaela, whom she picked up on was not that happy with her place in the game (evident by her kicking the challenge). As we saw in the preview for next week, it looks like Brad and Michaela end up going to war against one another, instead of working together like Monica suggested.

It seemed the biggest development from the “loved ones” challenge was not who got to spend time with their loved one, but who was left behind. Tai, Sierra, Michaela and Troyzan looked like they were going to flip the game and vote out Andrea after they were left back at camp together. Tai you may recall, was basically back-stabbed last week when his allies Brad, Troyzan and Sierra all threw votes his way. If Tai and Michaela were to join forces, along with Brad, Sierra and Troyzan, they would have enough votes to take back control of the game. To me, it seemed to be a great strategic move for Michaela, but it seems like she was swayed by…who else…Sarah.

It's Not a High Without a Low

Yes Sarah. She’s been the power player and out-front this entire season and here again, her personal relationship-building paid off for her. Even though she voted for Sierra, Sierra still gave her the “Legacy Advantage” which she had found during Episode 1…it gives the person Immunity at six players left in the game. Sierra had told Sarah about this in confidence, but Sarah used this knowledge to sway Michaela to vote Sierra out. It was a win-win for Sarah because not only did she not have to create any waves this week by going along with the person that Andrea and Cirie were targeting (Andrea, after Brad won the Immunity Challenge), but she knew that Sierra would will her the “Legacy Advantage.” The rub with this is that now Michaela knows about this power, and she’ll know that someone must have it moving forward…if she gets to talking with Cirie, whom she has been shown as being close with, Cirie could surmise that it is Sarah who is now in possession of the Legacy Advantage and that could make Sarah an even bigger threat. Man I love this game!

Speaking of Cirie, let me get it out of the way once again: CIRIE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS PERSON IN THIS GAME. I’ve been saying it – in all caps no less – for weeks people. We saw tonight that she is safely tucked in-between the larger threat Andrea and the goat, Aubry (sorry Aubry, I love ya but you’ve done nothing this season). Now with eight players left, she is nearing the point in the game where others SHOULD be worried about sitting next to her at the end, although we have not heard even a peep about her from the remainder of the cast. The “Next Time On” revealed that she will face a critical decision next week, and I feel like this decision might be blindsiding Michaela…she is someone that has rubbed everyone the wrong way and who apparently has a huge blow-up with Brad next week. It’s just speculation, but I think the preview showed that Michaela could be in trouble next week…

It's Not a High Without a Low

Episode Take-Away: …That of course means another week that someone OTHER than Cirie will go home. We inch one week closer to the May 24th Finale, and it is looking more and more like Cirie’s game to lose. Don’t forget that there are still three Immunity Idols still in play (Tai with two and Troyzan with one), in addition to Sarah currently holding the Legacy Advantage. As the numbers in the game shrink, these advantages become more and more important moving forward. But tonight I think spelled things out nicely: You have Cirie who is subtly controlling this game with Andrea out-front to take the hits and Aubry tucked in her back pocket. You have Tai and Michaela who had a big chance to take control of the game but who continue to sit pat and do nothing. Then you have Brad and Troyzan who are nearing the point where they have to win challenges in order to survive (Troyzan’s Idol does give him room for a mulligan). That leaves Sarah, still a huge factor and threat to win this game, but who will find herself with no real allies the deeper she goes. My hope? That Sarah wakes up very soon to the reality that Cirie cannot be allowed to get to the end, and tries to lead a coup against her and Andrea. It may be her only real chance of going to the end, because let’s face it, there is no way Cirie is going to let Sarah get there.

Strategic Move of the Week: This goes to Sarah, for her persuasion of Michaela, leveraging the knowledge of Sierra‘s Legacy Advantage in order to convince her to vote Sierra out.

Voted out this week: Sierra

Won Immunity: Brad Culpepper

Vote: No Idols or advantages played. 6 – Sierra (Andrea, Cirie, Aubry, Tai, Michaela, Sarah), 3 – Andrea (Brad, Troyzan, Sierra)

Next Week’s Episode: It looks like tensions reach a breaking-point between Brad and Michaela, and Cirie is forced to make a game-changing decision. It’s the LAST regular episode of the season leading up to the two-hour Finale and Live Reunion Show on May 24.

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