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: Sierra’s desperate to stay! So desperate to stay she trusts Sarah with her advantage. Whoops! Bye, Sierra!
WHO’S LEFT: Michaela (with snacks), Cirie, Culpepper (ugh), Aubry, Tai (and his two Immunity Idols), Troyzan (with largely-forgotten Immunity Idol), Sarah (with growing pile of SECRET ADVANTAGES and Andrea.
QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP: Back at camp, things are quiet, which becomes the theme of the first half of the episode. Viewers who might have thought Sarah was doing a fine job flying under the radar with her game play are quickly disillusioned. Everyone talks about how hard Sarah is playing and they begin to think about targeting her. Sarah picks up Sierra’s Legacy Advantage, which is immunity when there are six players left.
We’re off to the Immunity Challenge, which involves stacking pieces while tethered to a balancing table. First one to stack their house of cards to a certain height wins. Probst notes that Cochran holds the all-time record at this, winning it in 17 minutes. When Aubry calls Cochran “my boyfriend”, Probst goes into Best Friend in Junior High Mode, continually asking Aubry about this crush. Thankfully, he stops before re-creating Eric Idle’s Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink sketch from Monty Python. Aubry gets out to an early lead and seems to be holding it as the others struggle. She’s forced to re-build her stack at one point, having run out of pieces to reach the top. It doesn’t prove to be much of an obstacle as Aubry wins the challenge in an announced time of six minutes (meaning we probably watched the damn challenge in REAL TIME.) Aubry has gained immunity for the first time and thinks about building a case for herself.
Back at camp, Aubry targets Culpepper as the easy choice. (Just to underscore it, Culpepper’s shown toting an ax.) The rest of Aubry’s alliance, though, begins to have other ideas. Sarah and Andrea are keen on targeting each other. Cirie is also seeing the advantage in cutting ties with Andrea. Meantime, Michaela is sent, for reasons passing understanding, to ask Culpepper to go fishing. Culpepper responds in his most mature fashion, walking off in a pout and later calling Michaela a “diva” in an interview. (In Culpepper’s defense–and it hurts my feelings to write that–saying, “You should go fishing” isn’t the sort of thing you tell people unless you’ve got them over a barrel.)
At Tribal Council, everyone talks about how peaceful things have been at camp. Culpepper and Troyzan make a few attempts to stir the pot, talking about how now is the time to make a move rather than waiting. Neither argument seems to get much traction. Andrea talks about how actions effect jury perception, pointing out that it’s rather vicious to be friends with someone all day and then blindside them. Her words prove to be prophetic as nearly the entire tribe stabs Andrea in the back and sends her to the jury.
Back at camp, Aubry is distraught, realizing that for 78th time in this game, she’s aligned herself with someone who got blindsided. Clearly, there’s going to be a target on her back, unless she can get Culpepper out of the game. Tai makes a point of comforting Aubry. Cirie is immediately suspicious of any human compassion and thinks there might be an alliance forming there.
The Immunity Challenge involves standing on a platform and collecting water in a leaky bucket until you’re able to pour enough into a chute to free up a key. Once that’s done, you go back to land and use the key to unlock…sigh…some puzzle pieces, so you can…sigh….solve a puzzle. Cirie, not a fan of either heights or water, is the only one who gets nowhere at this challenge. It goes down to the wire and…sigh…Culpepper wins. He pumps his fist and stalks around the beach like he just sacked a quarterback (I’m assuming. I don’t remember him doing much of that during his NFL career.)
Back at camp, Cirie decides to target Tai. Sarah isn’t entirely buying the idea, but trusts Cirie with her vote-stealing advantage. Cirie dreams up a master plan. Okay, try and follow this (deep breath): Cirie wants to prevent Sarah from being blindsided. She decides to use Sarah’s vote-steal advantage to ensure Tai will be voted out. To fake out Tai (who she correctly believes may have an idol), she decides to steal Sarah’s vote and make it look like she’s going to vote out Sarah when IN FACT, she’s going to use to it vote out Tai. To make things look authentic, she tells Tai about the vote-steal, making it look like she’s going after Sarah, and DOESN’T tell Sarah about the plan.
That whole thing gave me a bigger headache than when Star Trek tries to explain causality loops during their time-travel episodes.
Anyway, when we get to Tribal, the whole plan goes pear-shaped because once Sarah hears about Cirie’s vote-steal, she wants the advantage back. Cirie doesn’t want to give it back, but Probst asks her to read the fine-print. It states that the advantage is NON-TRANSFERABLE (thus making it possibly the only advantage in Survivor history that ISN’T transferable.) Regardless, Sarah takes the advantage back and steals Tai’s vote. Another round of whispering and sidebar conversations follow (except for Troyzan, who’s elbowed out of every conversation and is later given a swirlie in the boys bathroom.) Finally, we get down to the voting. Tai, who could not be more clearly targeted unless he was covered in little red dots, chooses NOT TO PLAY HIS IDOL. And then, obviously, the person voted out is…
Tai picks up votes from Michaela and Aubry, but everyone else has decided to oust Michaela, including Cirie. (That doesn’t stop Culpepper from telling Tai that Cirie and Aubry were the ones who cast the votes against them.) I guess we’ll have to see how things pan out to determine whether or not Sarah wasted that advantage (taking it back didn’t mean she had to play it.) Meantime, as much as it hurt to understand Culpepper’s point of view earlier, it hurts even worse to think that maybe Debbie was right: maybe these people ARE idiots.
WHAT COMES NEXT: The big finale! And it looks like Tai’s screwed himself over by giving Culpepper one of his Immunity Idols!
SCORECARD (Let’s see where everyone’s at heading into the Finale)
Cirie: To put it mildly, Cirie is guilty of completely overthinking her move this week. There are blindsides and then there are plans you’d need a PhD to decode. If she wanted to blindside Tai, why didn’t she let Sarah in on the plan? If she couldn’t trust Sarah, why is she in an alliance with her? (And all of that is assuming I even decoded Cirie’s plan correctly in the first place!) Regardless, the plan blew up in her face and Cirie’s got a HUGE target on her. Unless she’s got another rabbit to pull out of her hat, she’ll be the first one gone on Wednesday.
Culpepper: Well, you knew it would only be a matter of time before the childish bully that Culpepper is would eventually reveal himself. If Culpepper hadn’t been so obviously fake up to this point, I might have given him credit for tamping down his dickish instincts for more than a month. As far as game play goes, he’s not in a bad position. He’s physically strong, he’s got friends on the jury and it looks like Tai’s going to foolishly give him an Immunity Idol next week. If Culpepper pulls this off, there isn’t enough wine in the world to console me.
Aubry: If Cirie is the first to go on Wednesday, Aubry might be the second. She’s regarded as a dangerous player, but most of that (this season anyway) has been due to her proximity to dangerous players rather than anything she’s done. Aubry is perceptive enough to realize she hasn’t made a case for herself. If someone (probably Sarah) figures that out, Aubry might get to the end. But she certainly won’t win.
Tai: In a perfect world, Tai’s path would be pretty easy right now. He’s got two Immunity Idols that MUST be played at the next two Tribal Councils. All he has to do is play them and take his chances in the final Immunity Challenge (traditionally, an endurance challenge, which Tai specializes in.) If he wants to effect the game at all, he can draw votes to himself, knowing they will be wasted. Or if he happens to pick up an Immunity Challenge win, use THAT to make a move. Unfortunately, Tai, who seems to be a lovely man in every other capacity, plays this game like he’s suffering from a massive head wound. The preview indicates that Tai gives his Immunity Idol to Culpepper, who intends to use it to vote Tai out. If he just grasps the simple notion of survive-and-advance, Tai will be fine. But as someone said this week, Tai’s drank the Kool Aid of needing to make a big move. Unless the preview is deceiving us, it looks like that comes back to bite him.
Troyzan: As I’ve said, Troyzan’s in an excellent position to get to the end. He’s got an Immunity Idol and he’s the EXACT kind of player a potential winner wants to sit next to at the end. You can practically see Troyzan squirming as he goes through the traditional goat treatment of being either ignored by the jury or subjected to a string of loaded questions about his fitness to be at the end. He’s got third place written all over him.
Sarah: It’s tempting to call this Sarah’s game to lose. After all, it’s been clear to the viewer just how much she’s controlled the game since the merge. But in 34 seasons of watching Survivor, the part of the game I can never predict is how the jury will vote. We were in a nice string of juries awarding game play until the Kaoh Rong jury screwed over Aubry and gave the win to the utterly undeserving Michele. The subject of what criteria a jury uses to determine a winner came up in Tribal Council this week. While it seemed to be a setup for Andrea’s elimination, it might also be a setup for Sarah not getting her well-deserved win. If you want a clue to how Sarah’s viewed in the game, we might have gotten it in Cirie’s decision to remove Andrea as the more dangerous to her game. If the jury awards the best player, Sarah should win. But it’s also possible their egos can’t handle the notion that the most lightly-regarded player at the beginning of the game turned out to be the one who outwitted all of them.
WHAT HAPPENED TO: Andrea & Michaela
The seed of Andrea’s demise was planted when she INSISTED on eliminating Zeke, over the objections of many of her alliance members. It portrayed Andrea as controlling and difficult to work with. Even though she pulled back on that the last few weeks, the damage, apparently, was done. Also, despite last week’s rap on the knuckles in picking up three votes, she was clearly too comfortable with her position in the game. She just didn’t entertain the notion that her alliance members might turn on her. It only occurred to her when her torch was being snuffed.
I’ve been writing this all season, but it stayed true to the end: Michaela might have advanced further here than she did in Millennials vs Gen X, but she didn’t play NEARLY as good a game. She did virtually nothing strategically and created so much unnecessary drama around camp that her tribemates were content to get rid of her rather than drag her to the end. In her exit speech, Michaela stumped for coming back a third time. I’d LOVE to see that happen. If she can strike a balance between the Michaela-who-played-too-hard-too-early and the Michaela-who-didn’t-start-playing-until-way-too-late, she could be a force in the game.