(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: It sucks being on the bottom of a tribe. Troyzan is on the bottom (but he has an immunity idol and a stone-faced ally), Tai is near the bottom, but keeps finding idols. Debbie’s on the bottom and has LOST HER MIND. And JT is SO on the bottom of Nuku, he gets voted out.
WHO’S LEFT: Sandra (the self-proclaimed queen), Michaela (with self-satisfied hair flip), Ozzy, Cirie, Zeke, Culpepper (ugh), Varner, Sierra (with SECRET ADVANTAGE), Aubrey, Tai, Debbie (who’s PISSED), Hali (still here), Troyzan (now with Hidden Immunity Idol), Sarah and Andrea (both trying to go through the game anonymously.)
QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP: Back at Nuku, Aubrey gives her tribemates the half-hearted congratulations that usually denotes: “I’m next, aren’t I?” Sandra explains that it was just because JT crossed the tribe that he had to go. In the interview, Sandra proclaims herself the Queen for roughly the 4,618th time since this edition began (but there wil be 4,623 additional declarations before the episode is over.)
The tribes show up for what would normally be a reward challenge, but since they’ve been instructed to bring their immunity idols, they all know something’s up. Sure enough, Probst gives them the order to drop their buffs. We’re switching tribes for the 46th time in the game (because Jeff Probst is the only REAL game changer; the O.G.!) After picking from the pu pu platter of hidden buffs, the tribes shake out thusly: Mana: Troyzan, Michaela, Hali, Aubrey, Sierra, Cirie and Culpepper; and Nuku: Sandra, Varner, Sarah, Andrea, Zeke, Tai and Ozzy. BUT WAIT, Debbie doesn’t have a tribe (which might be the truest thing I write all day.) Turns out Debbie’s going to Exile Island and will join the losing tribe at Tribal Council (thus making them the REALLY losing tribe.) Debbie is totally prepared to go off alone, saying she often did it as a child (of course she did) and that she had a pony. She doesn’t suppose there’s going to be a pony at Exile Island, but that’s okay. She’ll just set the world record for crunches and trap and kill a boar using stealth techniques she learned in Vietnam. (Be honest. You’re not certain if I made that last part up, are you?)
Debbie arrives at Exile “Island”, which turns out to be a freakin’ boat stocked with food, booze and other luxuries. Clearly, this is better than a f**kin’ pony. Debbie has just stuffed herself and settled into a hammock when a smaller boat approaches. Lo and behold, COCHRAN is paying us a visit! Turns out he’s there to let Debbie talk strategy with a master of the game and to offer her a choice of advantages going forward. This might have been my favorite scene so far this season. Debbie claims to practically worship Cochran and yet Cochran’s trying to give advice to someone who already thinks of herself as a master of all trades, jack of none. In the cut-away interviews, the fun was had in watching Cochran come up with new and interesting ways to avoid saying this was a massive waste of his time. As things were winding up, I SO BADLY wanted it to go like this.
COCHRAN: (To Debbie) Well, I really like your chances going forward. I think you’re in a really good position in this game.
(Cut to cut-away interview)
COCHRAN: She doesn’t stand a chance.
But Cochran is, at the end of the day, too nice in his own fumbly way to do a thing like that. He just gets up and Debbie gives him a hug…that goes on…and on…and on…to the point where Cochran must have been considering ways to chew off his own arms to get out of it. Debbie, meanwhile, bawls through the whole thing because…Debbie.
For the record, the choice of advantages was 1) a fake Immunity Idol kit (because the only time that trick’s ever worked is when someone left the idol for some other idiot to find…and Debbie’s not that clever), 2) an additional vote at one Tribal Council (I’m not certain that’s EVER worked) and 3) a tribal advantage at the next Immunity Challenge (because winning your tribe’s eternal gratitude is good for about ten minutes.) From this list of Hobson’s Choices, Debbie selects the additional vote, which was really was the best option. (Best in this case being defined as, the one I would have picked.)
Back at the new camps, there’s a big focus on Nuku, where Varner and Sandra find themselves on the bottom after having dominated the previous incarnation of Nuku. Sandra is fairly chill about the whole thing, possibly hinting at a return of the old “I’ll just do whatever you guys want to do” Sandra. That goes out the window when Sandra vows to be running the tribe shortly (getting us halfway to Sandra’s Calling Herself The Queen quota.) However, Zeke, student of the game that he is, correctly points out to the others that this is EXACTLY how Sandra won the first two times. The only other person under consideration is Tai, who’s always sneaking around looking for idols. Cut to Tai, sneaking around and looking for an idol. Remembering the Splash Some Water on a Board clue that got him his most recent Immunity Idol, he tries it again at a new camp. Sure enough, Tai finds himself the proud owner of a second Immunity Idol, his third in fourteen days.
There’s a bit of focus on Mana, where Troyzan and Culpepper have formed an alliance based on being the only two guys in the tribe. I’m sure Probst will entirely approve of this update of the He-Man Woman Haters Club and I look forward to vomiting at its existence in the near future.
The Immunity Challenge is an Immunity Challenge in name only. It involves moving a bunch of stuff across the water and then, of course, solving a puzzle. Probst has just finished giving them the instructions when Mana is declared the winner. (It felt that fast, anyway.) Nuku’s going to Tribal AND they’re going to get Debbie when it’s over. (Which is like being notified of a tax audit right after your house burns down.)
Back at camp, Sandra realizes, for the first time ever, she might be in trouble. She talks to Ozzy, Sarah, Andrea and Zeke about what would happen if there are three former Kaoh Rong players at the merge (Tai, Debbie and Aubry.) She stresses the importance of breaking up those three. In private conference, the others agree that Sandra makes a good argument and that Tai can’t be trusted…but screw that, they’re still voting out Sandra. Tai, again proving he has the strategic cunning of a doorstop, talks about the plan to vote out Sandra with her ally, Varner, STANDING RIGHT THERE.
At Tribal Council, Sandra concedes defeat, saying she knows she’s going to get voted out…which is probably the sneakiest thing she’s done in THIS episode because EVERYBODY knows Sandra doesn’t give up that easily. She manages to divert the conversation toward other possibilities. Tai, possibly because he hasn’t hit his personal Moron quota, begins to talk openly of getting rid of Ozzy. This leads to yet another round of sidebar whispering. Debbie, meanwhile, watches this whole thing with her hands over her face, peeping through her fingers (possibly the only moment ever in which Debbie and I have been in complete agreement.) Sandra seems certain of her survival and gives yet another “The Queen stays Queen” comment when casting her vote for Tai. Turns out, it’s going to be the last, as the tribe sticks to Plan A and sends Sandra packing. They do it, however, with a round of applause, recognizing the significance of Survivor‘s only two-time winner suffering her first defeat. A nice moment, made nicer by the fact Sandra was finally leaving the game.
WHAT COMES NEXT: Things are breaking down! Maybe Varner’s got a chance! Maybe Ozzy’s in trouble after all!
SCORECARD (Our weekly breakdown on how the castaways are doing. When it’s early like this, I usually just pick three to discuss.)
Varner: I’ll be honest, Varner’s confession that he just wants to make it to the jury (he’s never done it before) hit me in what passes for the feels. Varner was in the first edition of Survivor I ever watched and he got booted on what was then the Dreaded No. 10 position (i.e. the person who made the merge, but didn’t get to be on the jury.) So I’m rooting for the guy. His alliance with Sandra wasn’t much of a help, but he’s not regarded as a dangerous player. If he and Zeke have genuinely bonded, that’s a good alliance for him. If he DOES get at least as far as the jury, though, the question will be: can he make the moves needed to win the game? Or will he just let himself get dragged to the end and settle for second or third place?
Tai: In one sense, Tai’s done a decent job of, in the parlance I guess we have to use now, building a resume. He’s collected a bunch of Immunity Idols and used one of them to cut Malcolm off at the knees. But in terms of strategy and, well, common sense, Tai seems so lacking that you have to pass his deeds off as simple luck. It’s like a guy leading a charge into a gun battle and everyone EXCEPT him is getting hit. Right now, I’d say Tai has less chance of winning the game and more chance of being the second player to go home with two Immunity Idols in his pocket.
Zeke: With the players (slowly) being winnowed down, Zeke’s game is starting to emerge. To this point, he’s been smart enough to lay back in the weeds and not make a target of himself; a strategy that works that much better in an edition where the constant twists are actively PREVENTING the players from playing. His reading of the situation on Nuku and his advocacy of getting rid of Sandra seem to point to a guy ready to take over the game. It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with someone like Ozzy (strong in challenges, but not a guy you want around after the merge) as we go forward.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Sandra
Well, annoying as I found Sandra’s “The Queen stays Queen” chest-thumping, I have to give credit to how she played. As a two-time winner, the odds were ENORMOUSLY against her winning a third. She could have played the best game in Survivor history and wound up losing simply because the jury didn’t want to give her ANOTHER million dollars. To that end, she was smart enough, this time out, to realize that she COULDN’T play the game the way she played before. Instead of laying back and letting the other players fight it out, she had to get out front and try to control the game. And she was pretty damn successful; masterminding the exits of former winners Tony and JT. In the end, though, she was playing with a group of returning players who were not going to be awed by her status as a former winner. That was too much to overcome.