(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: The tribes are reconfigured from two tribes to three. JT and Troyzan have the screws put to them, but survive because they’re playing against a tribe called Mana. Culpepper acts as the Tai Whisperer and convinces him to get rid of Caleb before the EMTs can do the job.
WHO’S LEFT: Sandra (the self-proclaimed queen), Malcolm (and Malcolm’s mustache), Michaela (who hasn’t killed anybody yet), Ozzy, Cirie, Zeke (with head currently up Cirie’s backside), Culpepper (ugh), Varner (who really ought to consider wearing a shirt), Sierra (with SECRET ADVANTAGE), Aubrey, Tai, Debbie, JT, Hali (is…still here…for some reason), Troyzan (now with Hidden Immunity Idol), Sarah and Andrea (both trying to go through the game anonymously.)
QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP: Back at Mana, everyone congratulates Tai on making a bold strategic move that will almost certainly come back to bite him in the ass. Debbie manipulates Hali into admitting she wants Tai gone while everyone else is pretty determined to vote out Hali (I seem to have heard this somewhere before…)
The tribes go to a Reward Challenge in which two members from each tribe compete. One runs an obstacle course and then the other has to use some sandbags to knock over pegs. The winning tribe gets a bunch of coffee (because when you’re starving, what do you want more than something that will get you wired and diarrhea?) Nuku wins because it has two players (JT and Malcolm) who actually handle the challenge competently. Mana is stuck with Tai bumbling around the obstacle course while Ozzy blasts through for Tavua. However, Troyzan gets all tuckered out near the end of the throwing portion, allowing Culpepper to pass him up and win second prize (a thermos of iced coffee) for Mana. (Surprisingly, there were no shots of Troyzan massaging the Hidden Immunity Idol in his pocket.)
Back at Tavua, Ozzy does some fishing and talks about how invaluable he is to the tribe. (Confirming that Ozzy doesn’t feel the need to play the game strategically and will almost certainly be voted out later on.) Nuku enjoys their coffee while Sandra again talks about how she’s running the show. This, of course, is the international signal for Malcolm and JT to start talking about getting rid of Sandra.
The Immunity Challenge is of the Shouter-Guides-Some-Blindfolded-People-Through-An-Obstacle-Course-Then-Someone-Manipulates-A-Ball-Through-A-Table-Maze variety. Oh, and the big twist (revealed in last week’s preview) BOTH losing tribes will go to Tribal Council. Actually, that’s the small twist. The BIG twist is that both tribes will vote out only ONE castaway. Nuku jumps out to an early lead, followed by Tavua and then (of course) Mana. Each tribe must land three balls in the center of the table maze and each tribe member must step aside after landing a ball in the center. Nuku continues to hold the early lead. But Varner takes WAY too much trying to finish the challenge, allowing Tavua (courtesy Andrea) to sneak past him and win the challenge. Nuku and Mana are headed to Tribal.
Back at the camps, both tribes talk about the need to stay united, particularly Nuku, who has the numbers advantage. That would be a huge break for Nuku if not A) this was Survivor and B) both tribes have someone on the bottom of the pecking order who might flip to the other tribe. Hali seems willing to work with Nuku while JT and Malcolm see a chance to get rid of Sandra. Meanwhile, Tai finds a hidden immunity idol and tells the rest of his tribe about it. Suddenly, Mana might have a chance, particularly because Nuku can’t seem to agree on who to target.
(NOTE: I hate to think this of Survivor, but when Tai found the idol, my buddy Mike muttered, “Gee, that’s convenient.” Please, please, please, Probst, tell me everything that you’re doing is still on the up-and-up. Although, Mike is a known paranoid, so take that for what it’s worth.)
The Tribal Council itself is an act of mass insanity. Culpepper makes about 15 gun analogies in 10 seconds (as if the guy could get any more creepy.) Beyond that, Tribal starts with a rather sedate discussion of why each tribe should vote out somebody on the other tribe. It’s pointed out that Hali and JT are on the bottom of both tribes. Sierra and Hali start a sidebar conversation that prompts some whispered conversations at Nuku. Both sides then agree, via more whispered conversations, to stick with their original plans. JT then goes over and tells Culpepper that they’re voting out Sierra. Hali runs over to Sandra and tells them to vote Culpepper. Each tribe then breaks into huddles to discuss their plans. Meanwhile, Probst sits there like, “Am I even still hosting this show?” JT tries to get Mana to vote out Sandra via one more whispered conversation with Culpepper. Probst tells Hali it’s time to vote. She tells Probst that she didn’t consent. (In all my research on Survivor, I haven’t come across anything that indicates everyone has to consent to a vote. If I had to guess, Hali knew where the vote was going and pulled the lawyerly trick of creating a rule to stall for time.) After the vote is taken, Tai pulls out his Immunity Idol and gives it to Sierra. This nullifies all of Nuku’s votes and allows Mana to vote out Malcolm. Nuku is stunned, Malcolm is PISSED and JT is despondent.
WHAT COMES NEXT: JT’s tribe puts him on Double Secret Probation. Debbie freaks out-repeatedly-in the most Debbie way possible. Will she be voted out next? (Well, if I know my Survivor Manipulation Techniques, Debbie is a mortal lock NOT to be voted out.)
SCORECARD (Our weekly breakdown on how the castaways are doing. When it’s early like this, I usually just pick three to discuss.)
JT: This is JT’s third go-round on Survivor. Based on his play here and in Heroes vs Villains, I’m becoming more and more convinced that his victory in Tocantins was the result of riding Stephen Fishbach’s coattails and being the better looking, more charming guy at the end. Certainly, any time JT develops sympathy for someone on another tribe, disaster ensues. Right now, everyone on Nuku (including Malcolm, who’s technically no longer on Nuku) holds him responsible for Malcolm’s elimination. Unless there’s an idol or yet another twist in the offing, JT’s in serious trouble.
Hali: If Hali was at all likable, there’d be something admirable about her Energizer Bunny routine. She’s physically weak, has no real social skills and (probably as a result of the first two) doesn’t seem to have a discernible strategy in the game. And yet she’s STILL HERE while stronger players like Caleb, Tony and Malcolm have gone home. While there’s little-to-no chance that Hali will win the game, she’s getting perilously close to the point where she could go deep into it. If she survives to the merge, she can fly under the radar while the stronger players are picked off. Then she could be taken to the end because NO ONE will vote for her. Will it happen? Stay tuned…
Troyzan: It’s only a matter of time before Troyzan gets kicked to the curb. He’s a bit of a physical threat and doesn’t have the kind of personality where he can simply fade into the background. Until then, the fun will be had in seeing just how far he can fall in his tribemates’ eyes. He was already on the bottom of the pecking order before blowing the Reward Challenge and being told to sit out the Immunity Challenge. What will he do next? Hit on a tribemate? Pee in the fire? Take a nap during an Immunity Challenge? The world’s your oyster, Troyzan. Make it memorable!
A TRIP TO THE SOAPBOX: The “two tribes at Tribal Council” thing was the third twist in as many weeks. While I liked this particular wrinkle (anytime you can add a strategic element that we haven’t seen before I’m going to like it) we’re coming very close to “twist fatigue.” Yes, we’re LONG past the point where the game can be played without some curveball from the producers, but the number of twists in Game Changers is getting excessive. Sometimes you have to leave the players alone and let the game develop on it’s own for a few weeks. Constantly throwing in twists has two effects: 1) the twists lose all meaning and 2) the players actually stop playing the game. Think about it. Despite all the fireworks at Tribal Council, both tribes just wound up going back to their original plans. There’s a reason everybody in the game is clinging to their original tribe configurations like grim death: nobody knows what the game’s going to do next, so they stick with what they know rather than a make a bold move that could bite them in the ass when the next twist comes around. The game is actually LESS interesting strategically. This edition is called Game Changers because (supposedly) these are some of the boldest players ever to play the game. But the only one who’s really changing the game at this point is Probst. And I don’t think anyone’s interested in 13 weeks of THAT.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Malcolm. To that end, Malcolm was the victim of the show’s latest “shocking twist”. In an average week, Nuku probably finishes second at the Immunity Challenge and avoids going to Tribal. Or without the “two tribes vote off one player” twist, Nuku likely keeps Malcolm around due to his strength in challenges. Malcolm didn’t screw up the game so much as the game screwed him.