Survivor: Game Changers finale

Survivor: Game Changers Finale and Live Reunion Show Recap

Well that just happened! The 34th Season of Survivor just came to a close, living up to its “Game Changers” title right up until the end. We entered the night with six players remaining in the game and ended with just one…the Sole Survivor…which was announced live in front of a studio audience in Los Angeles. But wow was it an explosive (or implosive, for some) Finale Episode!

I’m here to discuss and process what we just saw, so sit back and get ready to take a deep dive into the Finale and the pretty well-ran (for a change) Live Reunion Show that followed. Spoilers aplenty after the break, so proceed with caution!


No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Well congratulations are in order! But before we get to that, am I alone in thinking that this was a pretty great finish? There were several huge moments, twists, and even a “historic” Tribal Council, the first of the night, that sent Cirie out of the game. Poor Cirie! I had thought for sure that she was primed and ready to win this game, but her move last week – where she tried to play Sarah‘s advantage – ended up being more than she could overcome. I can’t believe that my crazy prediction in my article Preview came true! Well, sorta…I had dreamed up a scenario where five of the six players could be Immune at Tribal, and although it didn’t exactly go down the way I had guessed it would, that scenario ended up coming true!

My guess was that Tai was going to use his Idols on himself and Brad, then Troyzan might play his Idol. Sarah was safe with her Legacy Advantage, which left Aubry and Cirie as the only two that could have earned votes. I surmised that Aubry would maybe win Immunity (to possibly show off again to win the love of Cochran?), which would leave Cirie as the only person left. Woohoo! I love it when I am sorta right! It doesn’t happen all that often…predicting the outcome on Survivor is not normally a thing me or anyone is all that good at. And although this end result did come to fruition, it happened a bit differently because I had no idea that a huge riff between Tai and Brad was on the agenda. When Brad won Immunity for himself (on his way to a record-tying five individual wins), Tai did play one of his Idols on himself, but elected to play the second on Aubry. I don’t think Troyzan had planned to play his Idol, but when he saw how things were going down, he too pulled out his hidden Idol and played it. This indeed led to a few Survivor firsts: It was the most Idols (three) ever played at one Tribal, it was the most people ever (five) that were Immune at a Tribal, and it was the first time ever that a player (Cirie) went home being the only possible option.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

For me, what made this Tribal special was not only that it was a huge, dramatic, emotional one…but I just found it to be incredibly special how they collectively chose to send off Cirie. Jeff instantly felt the weight of the game coming down, when everybody realized that this was the way that Cirie was going to meet her end…an end that could possibly spell the end of her four-season-long journey and story. The “every-woman” player who famously “got off the couch” to play a game she never dreamed of playing…here she was getting applause on her way out of the game and getting to react to the moment of her elimination in that moment.

Not everybody gets asked questions and gets to talk about what they learned from their experience while still sitting in the game…usually it’s just “The Tribe Has Spoken” and Jeff nudges his boot on your backside as you are shown the dark path towards Ponderosa. But Cirie even got to utter those famous words herself. Cirie: She’s a true legend of the game and I think it’s good that maybe some of the younger fans – or those that have only followed recent seasons – got to see Cirie play the game, so that her legacy could live on.

And Cirie was so close too. Last week, overthinking a crazy plan to get Tai out of the game, back-fired and not only ruined her game, it ruined Tai’s game. There’s no question that things are different if Cirie didn’t push so hard, and who knows? It could have been Cirie’s million-dollar mistake. Surely it ended Michaela‘s game, but let’s not forget, nobody was going to vote for Michaela to win (it’s also crazy-funny-ironic to me that Michaela was the person who was trying to call out Brad at Final Tribal, for not creating deep relationships with people, when Michaela herself had bonded very little with pretty much everyone on the show this season). But Cirie’s downfall can also be credited to Sarah…if Cirie doesn’t feel so loyal and bonded with Sarah, she doesn’t do what she did to try to save her.

The Stakes Have Been Raised

But I digress…Congratulations to Sarah Lacina! The Winner of Survivor: Game Changers and the 33rd person to ever be named Sole Survivor. She played a masterful, thought-out game while forming real relationships along the way. This cop turned “criminal” on the show, she found herself driving nearly every vote, yet somehow never managed to be the real target. She’s a strong winner, and that’s saying a lot on a season full of returnee “game changers.” Sarah too, was one of the few contestants this year that many were surprised to see at all, yet she quickly proved to the world why she belonged.

After Cirie was sent to jury in crazy fashion, the next to bite the dust was Aubry. She tried making a compelling argument to Tai and Sarah, that they should keep her and vote out Troyzan, but let’s face it, nobody was going to vote out Troyzan knowing they could all win against him in the end (Troyzan hilariously claimed that he could beat anyone left in the game…perhaps he meant like Yahtzee or Parcheesi? Surely he couldn’t have been talking about the game of Survivor…). This was the first time in two seasons that Aubry had her torch snuffed, and while she is a quirky, fun personality (I love Aubry!), I think an objective fan would have to say that this season was a bit of a let-down when it comes to Aubry. She was invisible through most of the game and never really factored into much of what we saw.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Tai was next to go, also the first time in two seasons he was voted out. For Sarah, this was a no-brainer (nice try CBS and Survivor, trying to create potential “fire-making” drama when there was none). But this was the huge mistake – the million dollar mistake – for Brad Culpepper. Let’s face it, Brad was a force to be reckoned with and played a real great game this season. Yes, he won the five Individual Immunity Challenges, but much more than that, Brad was running the show early on at his tribe. He correctly pointed out at Final Tribal that it was him, not Sierra – who was seen as the “brains of the operation” by the jury – that had built a relationship with JT…this relationship is what ultimately saved Sierra during that insane “whispers” Tribal Council. Brad also played against type most of the season, showing a sensitive side and constantly reminding us of his love for his wife, former Survivor contestant, Monica. It’s too bad that Brad’s story ended the way it did: As a bully towards Tai and as somewhat of an arrogant Alpha Male. It’s the image he’s fought against all season, yet he played into it at the end. And even though it pained him to even consider it at the Live Reunion Show, it was shown that had he taken Tai to the end instead of Sarah, Brad Culpepper would have been the Sole Survivor. Ouch. Sometimes it’s easier not to know something than to realize what might have been.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Let’s not forget either, that two of the three Finalists this season – Brad and Troyzan – were both involved in the fan vote for the “Second Chance” season a few seasons back…neither of them earned the fan vote necessary to be chosen, but they’re both clearly liked by production. And while their faith in Brad clearly paid dividends for them, it’s hard not to love Troyzan despite the fact that he didn’t factor into much of anything this season. He may be a “passenger” and not a “driver” as Ozzy stated, but he’s always good company.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Right when you thought this season was out of twists, we were all given one last shake-up when Probst announced that they were going to be doing Final Tribal Council a bit differently than ever before. And while I miss the “one question” each from the jury members, I think I’m a fan of what they were trying to do. It was more of an open forum and group discussion, and Probst – by framing the Council with the words “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast” – managed to make these jury members hone in on what they’re supposed to be rewarding with their votes. I like that the game won’t come down to a bitter juror asking them to “pick a number between 1 and 100,” to decide a game of a million dollars.

And ultimately I think the jury got it right. Sarah is a deserved winner and truly played the “biggest” game. Brad underestimated her, but he’s not the only one. A large part of Survivor is being able to have great self-awareness and knowing where you stand in the game, and Sarah knew coming in that she wasn’t one of the players that everyone else would be gunning for right out of the gate. She used her “why is she even here?” status to blend in early and form real connections, and then she was able to play the game so well that she earned the trust of all of these “better known” players. Some people do like the “loyal” and “honest” game-play, like a Brad or an Ozzy, and while Brad clearly had a strong enough resume to win, Sarah’s social game was much more effective…and if the history of Survivor has proven anything, it’s that of all the styles of game-play that have been tried, having a strong social game is almost always the winning strategy above all else.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Episode and Season Take-Away: I thought it was a strong finish to a strong – if uneven – season. And speaking of the “history” of the game, I love that we know have entered into an era where Survivor statistics have made their way into the actual game. How cool is it that Probst is now mentioning to players “Survivor all-time challenge records” or who played the most days in the game? This show has now built such a strong legacy, it’s just fun to watch and realize just how special this “social experiment” really is. That 34 seasons into a game that has basically had the same ingredients from the very start, that we can still witness “Survivor firsts” on a pretty regular basis. That players whom in our head are dominant “masters” of the game – like Tony Vlachos or Sandra Diaz-Twine – can succumb much earlier than anyone expects when they try to play the game again. That “regular” people like Cirie can get up and finish a challenge, overcoming her fears, and that people’s human instincts – even those humans in a game competing against her – could rise up and help and support her through it. That issues like race, class, and transgender rights can be raised and discussed, affecting real change and heightening awareness. And that a person like Sarah Lacina, who many questioned why she was even asked to play again, could dominate and win the game, cementing herself as a great winner. Yes I love me some Survivor. And even though from season to season, episode to episode, it may not always be amazing, it is consistently the most compelling and entertaining show on TV. I am so proud and honored to get to write and cover the show for a living, and I thank all of you for reading and supporting me throughout this season and past seasons! I enjoy every minute of it…yes even the long, late nights following a two-hour Finale and Reunion Show…and I look forward to what Survivor has to offer moving forward!

Season Finale and Live Reunion Show

Live Reunion Show. Speaking of “moving forward,” what are all of your thoughts on Season 35, officially titled “Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers“? My first take? Damn that’s a long title to have to type out over and over again! So let me start the campaign…Season 35 from this word forward shall only be referred to as “Survivor: HHH.” Does that work for everyone?

Of course the sneak-peek of next season wasn’t the only highlight from the Reunion Show…not only was Sarah crowned winner and given her check, but Culpepper made things awkward by not wanting to play along with Jeff‘s game of “what if?” As it should have, a large chunk dealt with the whole Zeke/Varner situation, where pretty much a negative was turned into a huge positive for all involved. We learned that Malcolm “cried for a few days” after his massive blindside, and that Michaela has learned a lot about herself now after watching herself play two straight seasons. Queen Sandra was on-hand – wearing a diamond tiara! – to discuss how Survivor is her job…she just goes to work and gets her money. Aubry may not be the only one with a crush on Cochran (I see how you look at him Jeff Probst!), and Sarah shockingly admitted that Tony Vlachos – the winner of her previous season – was basically her mentor as to how she needed to approach this season.

Season Finale and Live Reunion Show

But as a fan of strategy and Survivor rules, the biggest take-away for me was when Jeff explained how a Final Tie-Vote would work: In the event of a tie-vote for the Winner of Survivor, the person with the lowest votes out of the Final Three (in this case Troyzan) would become a member of the jury and would cast the winning vote. Probst took a show of hands and we found that had Brad took Tai, there would have been a 5-5 vote between Tai and Brad…which Troyzan would have then broke by voting for Brad to win. Now THAT would have been a great way to end a “Game Changers” season.

Wait Don’t Go Yet! The show may have ended, but my coverage has not…in fact it’s just getting started. I urge you to check out my FilmSurvivor Podcast coming later today – which will post right here on Reality Tea – as I will be speaking to ALL SIX of the Final Six players: Sarah, Brad, Tai, Cirie, Troyzan, and Aubry. It will be a super-sized edition of the Podcast that you won’t want to miss.

I want you to then realize that the FilmSurvivor Podcast lives on! Yes just because the season is ending, I hope it becomes habit for you to check in, follow and listen to the Podcast as we go through the Summer. As the national film critic for and a TV personality in the Detroit area, I have a bunch of stuff lined up over the Summer, including celebrity interviews with actors and directors, other film critics and much more…in addition to my ongoing movie reviews. Next week’s episode, I will be interviewing the Director of the upcoming Film Festival “Cinetopia,” which begins June 1. But don’t think for a minute that my Survivor coverage is done, because mixed in will be some Survivor-centric Podcasts, and I’ll be covering all of the latest Survivor news leading up to next season’s “Survivor: HHH.” I appreciate your support and hope you give us a listen! You can download and subscribe to the Podcast on both Podbean and on iTunes.

In addition to the big Podcast later, please also be on the look for my updated rankings of both “Best Seasons” and “Best Winners” of Survivor. Where do you think “Game Changers” and Sarah Lacina should rank on the all-time lists? Comment below, this is your last chance to sway me!

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Thanks again everybody for a great season! 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