(BLOGGER’S NOTE: So it’s been a few years since I’ve done one of these, but I thought it would be fun to bring back the weekly Survivor recap. For those of you who are new to this, I give my cheerfully rambling opinions on last night’s episode, both in terms of game play and production, and speculate on strategies the players might use going forward. It should be noted that this does assume you’ve already watched the episode. If you haven’t, go find an online recap and come back to us. (Or watch the thing On Demand. This doesn’t have to be hard, ya cheap bastard!)
WHAT CAME BEFORE: Well, this is the premiere of the 34th season of Survivor. It’s called Game Changers and features 20 returning players noted for their aggressive and daring game play. Well, that’s how they’re promoting, anyway. Actually, the original concept for the season was to put together three tribes of six. One consisting of former winners, one consisting of players who made the jury but didn’t win the game and one consisting of players who didn’t make the jury. It’s a cool concept that was undone by a lack of former winners willing to return (and I can’t blame them. Returning to Survivor when you’ve already won the million dollars is like Jeremy Renner’s character returning to Iraq at the end of The Hurt Locker: it’s no longer about duty, it’s a sickness.)
WHO’S PLAYING: Well, as I said, it’s a collection of returning players. There are two tribes of ten to start with. Mana, which got a lot of focus in last night’s double episode, focused particularly on former winners Tony Vlachos and Sandra Diaz-Twine (as she’ll be quick to tell you: the only two-time winner of the game.) It also features the likes of Jeff Varner (previously of Australian Outback and Cambodia), Malcolm Freberg of Philippines and Caramoan) and Ciera Easton of Blood vs Water and Cambodia. The other tribe, Nuku, features Ozzy Lustin and Cirie Fields, both making their 43rd appearance on Survivor, Zeke Smith of the recent Millennials vs Gen X and JT Thomas, previously of Tocantins and Heroes vs Villains and apparently played this time out by JT’s older, fatter brother. There’s also the likes of Sierra, Hali, Sarah and Troyzan (all of whom I vaguely remember from their original seasons, but couldn’t tell you ONE thing about their game play.)
QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP: The cast arrives on what appears to be a converted pirate ship (ala the beginning of the very first season of Survivor.) Jeff Probst welcomes the audience while standing atop a sunken ship, washed up on reef way off shore. (It’s the kind of cool visual that’s among the reasons Survivor has been in business lo’ these many years. It just looks like no other show on television.) The castaways are then ordered to make a willy-nilly grab for supplies for their tribe, including a tool kit that’s sitting on a lifeboat about a hundred feet out. Of course, Ozzy (who may be part-dolphin) is the one who immediately hits the water and swims out for the tool kit. He’s followed later by Caleb. (You gotta love Caleb. He probably couldn’t have beaten Ozzy if they’d started at the same time. Why he thought he could catch him when Ozzy has about a five minute headstart is beyond me.) The other highlights are Tai falling into the water and having a chicken coop land on top of him (now THERE’S a visual metaphor if I ever saw one) and Sierra finding a secret advantage…after walking over the thing about three times, despite the advantage being in an envelope labeled (big as life) SECRET ADVANTAGE. (The envelope reminded me of Bart Simpson staring at a sparsely-populated Where’s Waldo? book and saying, “Man, they’re not even TRYING anymore.”) Yup, Sierra’s going to be one to keep an eye on.
Once they’re at Mana’s camp, Tony runs away from camp, screaming to everyone that he’s going to look for an idol. I know that’s the kind of absurd thing I would normally write for comedic effect, but that’s exactly what Tony did. Both Tony and Sandra seemed ready to embrace their previous strategies. Tony: be so bats**t crazy that nobody, even Tony, can figure out what he’s up to. Sandra: be the least threatening player and go to the end, where you win because you’re the least objectionable option. In Tony’s case, he took it a step further, deciding to recreate his old spy shack by digging a hole in the ground and covering himself with debris so he could overhear people’s conversation. Again, I know that’s the kind of ridiculous thing I write for comedy, but…that’s what he planned to do.
Meantime, over at Nuku, Zeke develops a creepy obsession with Cirie, who’s more concerned about Ozzy’s several year old grudge over being voted out of Fans vs Favorites. (I think that was the one. As I said, they’ve played a combined 75 times.) My personal reaction, and possibly Ozzy’s, was, “Oh yeah, Cirie was part of that. I forgot. I was so focused on Parvati.” At any rate, Ozzy DOES still seem annoyed by it, but is more concerned about getting rid of the weaker players (which conveniently includes Cirie.) Tai, who’s grasp of English seems to falter under pressure, doesn’t immediately answer Cirie when asked if Ozzy’s still carrying a grudge. This more or less tells Cirie she’s got an enemy in Ozzy. (Tai seems like such a sweet guy that I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt when I say he doesn’t intend to be a s**t-stirring weasel. But man, he certainly acts like one.)
Mana manages to lose the first immunity challenge by brilliantly deciding to have Caleb dig in the sand (the same activity that got him med-evac’ed out last time) and having Ciera work on the ship’s wheel puzzle (the same one her mom stomped her at the first time she played.) About the only thing that went right for Mana was Varner openly disputing Jeff Probst’s narration that he was panicking (the more players who call Probst out on his crap, the better.) Once they go to tribal council, they decide to vote out Ciera for the unpardonable crime of suggesting a few people who could be voted off. (The GALL of that woman.) Michaela nearly saved Ciera by wigging out over being used as a pawn. Still, the tribe decided to toss the devil it knew and keep the devil it didn’t.
Back at camp, the brief alliance of former winners Tony and Sandra fell apart when Tony overheard Sandra and Troyzan discussing strategy. (It should be noted Tony was working on his spy hole at the time. No, I am NOT making that up.) Tony, stealthy creature that he is, immediately confronts Sandra and Troyzan, thus prematurely ending their alliance. Sandra is so broken up, it literally takes her 15 minutes to put together a new alliance. When Manu loses another immunity challenge (featuring a 400 lb flaccid snake and a lot of lame double-entendres [most of them coming from my living room]), Tony appears to be in deep trouble. Though Aubrey picks up a few inexplicable votes, Tony is the one sent packing. Sandra taunts him as he leaves, declaring herself the Queen.
WHAT COMES NEXT: The preview for next week shows a VERY early tribe swap and JT ditching his tribe mates to look for an immunity idol.
SCORECARD (Our weekly breakdown on how the castaways are doing. When it’s early like this, I usually just pick three to discuss.)
Sandra- Though I make light of it, Sandra’s key to being a two time winner was playing the game without ever SEEMING to play the game. As she herself said at the final tribal council for Cook Islands, “Just because I wasn’t running around figuring out who to vote out every five minutes didn’t mean I wasn’t playing.” Sandra was always positioning herself correctly before each tribal council. This might not have pleased certain drips (i.e. Russell Hantz) who feel the game must be played aggressively at all times, but it was definitely effective. (Sandra’s record 2-0. Russell Hantz: 0-3.) All that said, I found her play a little bothersome in last night’s episode. Being out front and aggressive, possibly putting a target on herself, isn’t how Sandra generally plays the game. Maybe she was goaded into it by Tony or maybe she’s let being the show’s only multi-winner go to her head. Either way, she’s better off following another tactic she mentioned last night: “Hey, you should WANT to take me to the end, because nobody’s going to want to give me the million dollars AGAIN.” Let’s see how she handles the tribe swap.
Michaela- You ever been on a first date and everything seems to be going along swimmingly and then-out of nowhere-your date freaks out about something? Could the waiter, could be a stranger passing by, could be something you innocuous you said (or at least YOU thought it was innocuous.) It completely alters your first impression of this person and, whether they intended it or not, puts them in a perception hole they may never dig out of. That was pretty much Michaela last night. When everyone was focused on getting rid of Ciera, they intended to use Michaela as a pawn. When told about this, Michaela reacted as calmly as Justin Bieber does when he gets his favorire blankey taken away. Since Michaela is, like Zeke, an unknown quality (her season had not aired when this edition was shot) it didn’t leave her tribemates with a good taste in their mouths. Michaela isn’t the type of person to do damage control, so we’ll see this affects her game (that tribe swap may be a godsend for her, whether she realizes it or not.
Cirie- As I’ve pointed out ad nauseam in the past, Survivor has three distinct phases: tribe-vs-tribe, post-merge and endgame. Cirie is at her most vulnerable during the tribe-vs-tribe phase, since she’s not a physical asset. She’s at her most dangerous later, when choosing who to pick off. Unfortunately, she has Ozzy on her tribe, who will (with good reason actually) remind everyone how dangerous it is to let Cirie hang around. She may get a big boost from the tribe swap. It will be interesting to see if she can navigate this early part of the game.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO…
Ciera and Tony: you can pretty much throw both of last night’s eliminated contestants into the same boat. Both came in with reputations and neither were able to find their footing before being shown the door. Ciera seemed the more egregious of the two, since all she did (or all that the editing showed us) was throw out a few suggestions for people to eliminate. Apparently, she was expected to sit in the background and speak to no one (a strategy that worked out pretty well for Hali.) Tony responded to working with more experienced players by doubling down on the crazy. Even he was willing to admit later that it was probably the wrong strategy (made for an entertaining couple of hours, though.)