(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: People are all looking for ways to make moves! Especially Varner…who tries a really bad one. Bye, bye, Varner.
WHO’S LEFT: Michaela, Ozzy, Cirie, Zeke, Culpepper (ugh), Sierra (with SECRET ADVANTAGE), Aubrey, Tai, Debbie (who’s PISSED), Hali (still here), Troyzan (now with Hidden Immunity Idol), Sarah and Andrea (no longer trying to go through the game anonymously.)
QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP: Zeke appreciates the support of his tribe (which addresses one of my personal concerns from last week) and also recognizes that they’re still in a competition for a million dollars (something he seems cool with and addresses my other big concern from last week.)
Everyone arrives on the mat and quickly realizes something’s up. Probst is standing next to a feast and to something that’s covered. (That never turns out well.) Sure enough, drop your buffs, we’re merged! The twist (because there absolutely, completely, totally HAS to be one) is that everyone will get to eat…except one member from each of the old tribes. If they can’t decide on two players, everyone gets (Probst whips off cover, twirls evil mustache) a little round of cheese and crackers. Culpepper quickly volunteers to sit out for Mana. After a round of “Please somebody ELSE step up” looks from Nuku, Tai volunteers to take the bullet as well. He and Culpepper have some awkward bonding while the rest of the tribe digs into the food and the hooch (apparently Debbie pretends to be drunk while Sierra is the genuine article. Although it’s hard to tell. Debbie’s twerking and mooning Tai COULD be her being drunk…or just her being Debbie.) In an interview, Sierra briefly mentions her advantage in the game, which she can use here when there are 13 players or use later when there are six. In time-honored Survivor tradition, Sierra decides to wait.
Meanwhile, the newly-merged tribe starts to coalesce around getting rid of either Hali or Michaela. The general consensus is there’s no reason for Hali to still be in the game (something both the viewers and Hali agree with) but there’s fear that she might have an Immunity Idol. So the decision is to split the votes…but send most of the votes toward Michaela. (This is an….interesting strategy. Isn’t the idea of splitting the votes to target the person who MIGHT have the idol and then throw votes to someone else as a backup? If Michaela’s the target, why even split the votes? Hali would only play an idol if she felt threatened.) Cirie and I see eye-to-eye on this one (I’m sure she’s relieved to know that) and she goes to Michaela with some advice (essentially, “Calm down. Let me handle this.”) The Immunity Challenge is of the Balance Something On Your Head Until It Falls Off endurance variety. Both Michaela and Hali go down, ensuring that things will go exactly as the tribe plans…probably.
Back at camp, Cirie manages to flip enough votes to make Hali the actual target. Once at Tribal Council, Hali, in the interest of putting the final nail in her coffin, completely denies having an Immunity Idol or even knowing what one of them dang things is. (Anyone else notice that her Southern accent seemed to come out of nowhere? Or has she just not spoken enough for us to notice?) At any rate, Hali gets her long overdue Walk of Shame and becomes the first member of the Jury (an additional shame when you look at who’s been tossed up to this point.)
And it’s a double episode, so we’re back at camp again, where two factions are forming. I think. The editors didn’t exactly go out of their way to make these factions clear to us. Apparently, Cirie, Andrea, Zeke and Michaela are part of one and Sierra and Culpepper are part of the other. And maybe Debbie. But Zeke has his doubts about throwing in with Cirie and Andrea. At any rate, we go to a Reward Challenge, in which the tribe is split into two teams. After a back-and-forth Pull Something Out of the Water Then Use It to Make A Puzzle challenge, the team consisting of Tai, Andrea, Zeke, Ozzy, Troyzan and Debbie pulls it out. As a reward, they get to go to the MARSHALL’S LOUNGE (because f**k you, Amazing Race, we INVENTED blatant product placement!) Anyway, they get showers, food and fluffy robes for the afternoon. Tai honors the occasion by streaking the lounge (NOT brought to you by Marshall’s.) In an interview, Zeke talks about how grateful he is to get away from the game for a while…then promptly starts thinking about the game. He gets together with Tai and Debbie and spills the beans about Cirie’s and Andrea’s game plan. Debbie, wily strategist that she is, doesn’t believe him.
We’re off to the Immunity Challenge, which brings back the old Balance on a Pole by Your Fingers and Toes challenge. Probst is quick to point out that Ozzy is undefeated at this challenge and Ozzy doesn’t seem remotely modest about this. Several people quickly drop out as Ozzy threatens to dominate. Eventually, it’s only he and Tai…and Tai pulls out the win! (Which thankfully, was ALL that Tai pulled out at this point in the episode.) When we return to camp, Zeke wastes no time in ratting out Andrea’s and Cirie’s plan to take out Sierra. Debbie counters by masterminding (if that’s the word you want to use) a plan to take out Ozzy. She whispers in everyone’s ear in a way that leaves no room for debate (Typical Debbie.) Zeke’s betrayal gets back to Cirie and Andrea and they immediately target Zeke.
Tribal Council is comparatively sedate (at this point, you’d have to sacrifice a live chicken to make it wilder than some past editions.) The voting, however, gets a little goofy. Cirie throws a vote at Sierra just for the hell of it. Zeke votes for Aubry (because that’s what Sierra told him to do.) Debbie’s so confident in her numbers, she uses her advantage in the game to throw an extra vote to Ozzy. Turns out she SHOULD have had confidence in the numbers because 6 votes go to Ozzy (compared to four for Zeke and one each for Aubrey and Sierra.) So Debbie used up her advantage just to run up the score. Ozzy wishes starvation on his now-former tribemates, who are polite enough not to remind him that they still have chickens back at camp.
WHAT COMES NEXT: The cracks are starting to show! Is Zeke on the outs?!
SCORECARD (Our weekly breakdown on how the castaways are doing. Yes, we’re at the merge, but until we get inside ten players left, I’ll just pick three to discuss.)
Zeke: There’s no doubt that Zeke is a perceptive player (witness his remarks on Culpepper trying to “improve his brand” after not coming off so well the last time he played) and a student of the game (he seems fully aware of how everyone’s moves could effect play.) But his fatal flaw is his need to control the game. It wasn’t enough that he was part of a strong faction and, via his alliance with Andrea and Cirie, a part of an even stronger faction-within-the-faction. His need to be in charge asserted itself in his turning against his alliance and trying to join up with the other one (one that doesn’t seem all that anxious to bring him in.) Zeke admitted his big mistake in Millennials vs Gen X was making a big move to soon (it destroyed his alliance with Hannah and led to his downfall in the game.) But he said he’d rather regret making a big move than regret not playing the game. (Translation: “I learned nothing from the last time I played and will cheerfully shoot myself in the foot once again.”) Zeke wanted to control the game. Instead, he had four votes cast against him and was not told who his new alliance was actually voting for. He’s about as far from controlling the game as you can be.
Debbie: While Debbie is 98% irritating, the 2% that fascinates me is her Phillip Sheppard-like ability to do insane things and then claim it was part of some non-existent master plan. For example, she claimed she was faking being drunk and was completely sober while twerking and mooning Tai. Okay, fine. But what was the point of faking drunkenness? It didn’t hurt her game, but what strategic advantage did it bring her? Speaking of which, I’m sure Debbie will give herself loads of credit for masterminding Ozzy’s exit. I will counter with these two things: everyone knew Ozzy would have to go sooner rather than later AND Debbie wasted her advantage by using to win a vote she would have won otherwise. All that aside though, you build a resume (apparently we’re using this vernacular now) by collecting the hides of the people you’ve eliminated from the game. Debbie can claim the first one. Still, I have a hard time imagining her reaching the end and an IMPOSSIBLE time imagining her collecting enough votes to win.
Cirie: This is the part of the game where Cirie is always at her most dangerous. Once she’s navigated the tribe-vs-tribe portion (always her weakest stretch) she starts to make moves. That proved to be the case again this week. She essentially flipped the script on the plan to vote out Michaela and cultivated a strong ally in the game while doing so. Yes, she put a little too much trust in Zeke, but that seems to have rebounded more on Zeke than her. The key at this point will be finding a way to cobble together a new alliance and undoing some of the damage Zeke has done. I’m not betting against her.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Hali and Ozzy
In a sense, Hali and Ozzy both made the same mistake: they just didn’t play the strategic portion of the game. If we take the editing at face value (perilous, I know) Hali didn’t do much to play the game at all. She tried to shake up one Tribal Council and she performed well in one puzzle challenge. Beyond that, she wasn’t in on any big strategic moves. She wasn’t physically strong. There’s no evidence that she contributed much around camp. And the less said about her social game, well “less said” pretty much WAS her social game. Basically, she fell between the cracks until she got to the merge and it was collectively decided it was time for her to go.
For Ozzy, as I said in an earlier column, he and Rupert might as well be the same player. Likable, strong around camp, a beast in challenges…and no strategic game whatsoever. In Ozzy’s case, he seemed to genuinely believe that his contributions around camp made him indispensable in the game. That would be fine if this were his first go-round, but it’s his FOURTH. By this time, Ozzy HAD to realize how he’s viewed: as a guy you absolutely need to keep when it’s tribe-vs-tribe and one of the first guys you consider tossing overboard after the merge. It’s what’s happened to him nearly every time. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. (You hear that Zeke?!)