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!) And if you haven’t read one yet, WHERE THE HELL YOU BEEN ALL SEASON?
WHAT CAME BEFORE: Probst is on set with the castaways! He strolls through the set and there’s a huge audience! There’s a whole season of Survivor that’s passed. Tony’s an idiot. Sandra manipulates J.T.! Debbie’s nuts! Whisper-palooza! Tai screws Malcolm (figuratively!) Zeke gets outed. Blindsides galore! Cirie messes up! Michaela’s out. And here’s….
WHO’S LEFT: Cirie, Culpepper (doubling-down on the ugh), Aubry, Tai (and his two Immunity Idols), Troyzan (with largely-forgotten Immunity Idol), Sarah (with growing pile of SECRET ADVANTAGES.)
QUICK AND DIRTY RECAP: Back at camp after Tribal, everyone is trying to figure out what the hell just happened. Who was the “rat” Cirie was talking about? (Tai.) Why did Sarah vote out Michaela? (She was too close to Cirie.) But Sarah asks the most pertinent question of all, when Cirie lays out her incredibly complex (and ultimately unsuccessful) plan to get rid of Tai: “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?” Cirie doesn’t really have a decent answer to that. Culpepper and Troyzan wisely stay out of the whole thing. Tai, however, does not. He admits he was going to vote Sarah out. And not in an interview, but TO SARAH. While this would seem to vindicate Cirie, Sarah’s still mad about being left in the dark about the plan. In an interview, Sarah decides to throw in Culpepper and Troyzan, saying she can no longer trust Cirie.
The next day, Tai, feeling he needs an ally in the game, doubles-down on his idiotic moves by telling Culpepper he has two Immunity Idols. Culpepper, now in full Dickhead Mode (you never want to go full dickhead) orders Tai to give him one of the Immunity Idols and then play the other one at the next Tribal Council. Tai backs away from this bullying by refusing to give Culpepper the idol until after Tribal. Culpepper cites Tai’s betrayals as the reason for his behavior toward Tai (as opposed to, say, Culpepper no longer being able to cover the fact he’s a raging assclown.)
We’re off to the first of three Immunity Challenges. This involves running through a maze to collect (sigh) puzzle pieces and then (sigh) putting together yet another f**king puzzle. The prize is not only immunity, but a Chicken Parmesan dinner as well. Culpepper manages to win the challenge and exults, “Not bad for a dumb jock, huh?” Because: Culpepper, Dickhead Mode. He’s allowed to pick two people to share in the reward. He picks Troyzan and Sarah, making it abundantly clear where the alliance lines are now drawn.
After dinner, Culpepper goes after Tai again, pressuring him to hand over the idol and saying it’s the only way he’ll get to the end. He then tells Troyzan that he plans to vote out Tai when they get to four and make him look a fool. Watching this, my buddy Mike says, “I didn’t think there could be a bigger douche than Russell Hantz, but there it is.” Tai commiserates with Aubry and Cirie, but doesn’t feel comfortable. “Nobody cares about me. Everybody just wants something from me.” It’s kind of amazing that a man this kindhearted draws such wrath. (Not excusing Culpepper’s behavior, but someone being pissed at Tai is not an isolated incident.)
We go to the first of FOUR freakin’ Tribal Councils and EVERYBODY HAS AN IMMUNITY IDOL. Well, not everybody. Tai plays one of his Immunity Idols for himself and then plays the other one for Aubry. Sarah plays her advantage, which is immunity for this vote (it’s the only time she could have played it.) Not liking where the numbers are shaking out, Troyzan finally plays HIS idol. Since Culpepper has the Immunity Necklace, that leaves only Cirie out of the Immunity Club. Turns out that’s enough to get her “voted” out, even though there are no votes cast against her. She does get some prizes on the way out the door, i.e. a standing ovation from the jury and Probst allowing her to say, “The tribe has spoken.” I’m guessing she would’ve preferred the million dollars.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Cirie
Well, mainly, she didn’t have immunity. Beyond that, though, Cirie, for a player as smart as she is, made a baffling error in not telling Sarah about her master plan to eliminate Tai. If she had retained Sarah’s trust, she still would have controlled a majority alliance. Either she didn’t trust Sarah or completely underestimated her. Either way, it was the end of Cirie’s game. If she hadn’t been tossed here, she would have been a target at the next Tribal Council.
BACK TO THE RECAP: Since we have to move this s**t along, we skip any sense of camp life and go right to the next Immunity Challenge. This involves balancing some balls on a stick as you move it through a maze. Probst gets in a lot of “ball” puns and–guess who–Culpepper wins another immunity. “That was for Monica,” he says. So…balls made him think of his wife?
Back at camp, Aubry makes the case for getting rid of Troyzan, who Culpepper obviously wants in the Final Three. Meantime, Tai now wants to eliminate Aubry, feeling he can’t beat her in the final vote. But, but, but…you just SAVED her at that last Tribal Council? AND gave up one of your Immunity Idols to do it. I think someone on the production staff should start showing Tai the dailies, just to help him form a consistent strategy. Perhaps he’s confused because Culpepper keeps laying into him. “I’ll put it to you like this, I control who goes to the final four. I do. I control who goes to the final four.” (To anyone who was wondering about my antipathy toward Culpepper this entire season, I present the last two episodes as Exhibits A through Z.)
At Tribal Council #2, Aubry targets Troyzan, saying Culpepper’s obviously going to win the final Immunity Challenge and take Troyzan to the Final Three. The discussion turns to people the castaways feel they CAN’T beat in the final vote. Turns out only Troyzan thinks he can beat everyone, which draws a huge laugh from the jury. That should probably tell you–and Troyzan–how that final vote’s going to turn out. Regardless, Aubry gets kicked to the curb by a 4-1 vote, so Troyzan’s comedy routine was really the highlight of that Tribal.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Aubry
I’ll be writing a Back from Fiji column soon to wrap up this season of Survivor and I’ll go into more depth about Aubry’s overall game at that time. But specific to her elimination, there wasn’t a whole lot she could have done. Whether she earned it or not, Aubry was seen as a dangerous player and was advocating the elimination of someone who was decidedly NOT a dangerous player. When you’re on the wrong side of the numbers, that argument’s never going to work.
BACK TO THE RECAP: Since there’s probably nothing to discuss at camp, we go straight to the final Immunity Challenge. This one involves running some stairs and using a water slide to collect puzzle pieces to–guess what?–solve a f**king puzzle. Culpepper wins this, his fifth Immunity Challenge victory and fourth in a row. Back at camp, Culpepper has his sights set on Tai. When Troyzan asks if they’re going to tell Tai before voting him out, Culpepper refuses, determined to humiliate Tai. Meantime, Tai tells Sarah they should both vote for Troyzan and force a tie, which in turn will force a fire-making challenge. Sarah considers it, but probably just to humor Tai. At Tribal Council #3, Culpepper continues to berate Tai, talking about leverage. I’ve run flat out of ways to describe Culpepper’s attitude, but I will say this: WHY would you act that way in front of a jury? TO a potential jury member? Was Culpepper not aware that JURY VOTES determine the winner? Did he think people were killed once they left the game? Did he think the winner was determined by one more challenge? The truth might be that Culpepper felt he could beat anyone. He said as much in an interview. Still, why act that way and potentially cost yourself votes?
Anyway, Tai gets voted out.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Tai
Again, I’ll go more into Tai’s overall game in the wrap up column. But his final pitch to Sarah actually held some water. Replacing Troyzan with himself in the final three would have been replacing one beatable player with another. However, Sarah already had a goat in place without the fuss of pissing off Culpepper and (if he emerged victorious) Troyzan by forcing a fire-making challenge. Plus, in terms of jury placement, Sarah would have replaced a likely vote for her (Tai) with an almost-certain vote for Culpepper (Troyzan). It was good as a desperate argument went, but ultimately, like a lot of Tai’s strategy, it just wasn’t going to work.
BACK TO THE RECAP: After the traditional Final Three breakfast, everyone goes to the final Tribal Council. And Probst has another curveball for us. Rather than follow the traditional Everyone Asks A Question And/Or Makes a Speech approach, we’re going to have an open forum discussion around three elements of the game: Outwit, Outlast, Outplay. Ozzy advocates for Brad, saying he should be rewarded for his dominance in Immunity Challenges (projecting there much, Ozzy?) Debbie joins Ozzy in advocating for Culpepper. (Great. My least-favorite player advocating for my second least-favorite player.) Zeke, on the other hand, advocates for Sarah, saying she’s played the best strategic game. Michaela, while not openly advocating for Sarah, points out the weakness of Brad’s social game by simply asking him what he knows about her. (Culpepper’s answer is something along the lines of: “You like…stuff…”) Tai asks Culpepper, “Do you realize how you talk to people?” When Culpepper attempts to justify the way he’s treated Tai, Hali hits him with, “Did you just say you used condescension as a strategy to control Tai?” At this point, Culpepper starts tugging his collar and going, “Hummuna, hummuna, hummana.” Sarah owns up to her game play, pointing out her undercover work as a cop means you have to adopt personas and fake relationships, something she brought to Survivor. She also points out that Culpepper’s a former professional athlete, undercutting his argument about dominating Immunity Challenges. Troyzan realizes, by dint of no one asking him questions, that he has absolutely no chance of winning this game. He then thanks the jury for being part of his dream. That’s actually a very cool and classy move.
We go to the voting, highlighted by Debbie voting for Culpepper and saying, “Sometimes the good guys win.” Really, Debbie? This is the same Brad Culpepper you called controlling and condescending? The one you melted down on during the Most-Insane-Survivor-Moment-That-Didn’t-Involve-Brandon-Hantz? The one you berated DURING a challenge? Seriously? (Then again, to put it mildly, self-awareness is not Debbie’s strong suit.)
We go to the live audience for the counting of the votes. Sarah and Culpepper pick up three each before the run of Sarah votes begins and SARAH is your Sole Survivor! (We don’t get to see the full run of votes, but it’s pretty easy to imagine Ozzy, Debbie and Sierra voting for Culpepper while everyone else went for Sarah.) And then we’re off to the Live Reunion Show!
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO: Troyzan and Culpepper
Troyzan was your classic Third Place Finisher. Here’s why I don’t like a Final Three: has there EVER been a competitive Final Three? One in which you really thought all three of them had a shot at winning? I certainly don’t remember one. It usually boils down to two potential winners and one goat. It simply lacks the gravitas of a Final Two. Then again, I suppose a counterargument can be made that a Final Two doesn’t guarantee we won’t get a goat. If we used last night’s crew as an example, Culpepper and Sarah would have battled in a final Immunity Challenge for the right to take the completely-beatable Troyzan to the end. And the fact I spent this paragraph talking about anything but Troyzan’s game tells you everything you need to know about Troyzan’s game.
Certainly, an argument can be made in favor of Culpepper deserving the win for his string of Immunity Challenge victories. And I won’t disagree that physical ability should be taken into consideration. But while Culpepper was winning these challenges, he wasn’t doing much to help his cause in other areas. Strategically, he didn’t do a lot worth noting. (Cirie was eliminated because she didn’t have an Immunity Idol. Aubry and Tai were the next most obvious eliminations.) Socially, he actually devolved. His treatment of Tai and his chest-thumping after Immunity Challenge wins burned down what was already (based on a few comments here and there) a pretty shaky social game. As a result, he only picked up votes from a former alliance member (Sierra), a guy who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the strategic part of the game (Ozzy) and a bitter juror whosE ego wouldn’t allow her to admit she’d been outwitted by Sarah (Debbie).
SO WHY WAS OUR WINNER: Sarah
Again, I’ll focus on Sarah’s overall game another time. But for her end game, she continued to do what she had done so well since the merge: made everyone believe she was a close friend before slitting their throats. Possibly her canniest move was jumping to an alliance with Culpepper and Troyzan after Cirie’s attempt to vote out Tai failed. It’s likely the move Sarah would have made anyway–it would have been difficult to imagine her beating Cirie and Aubry in the end–but she was able to make it look like Cirie’s fault. Whether by design or by the luck that occasionally befalls winners, every move Sarah made was flawless.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE REUNION:
-Sarah talks about modeling her game on Tony’s and Tony calling her at 5:30 every morning to get pumped up. (I say this with absolute affection: can you think of a more Tony thing to do than that?)
-Culpepper apologized to Tai, giving him a hug and saying, “I must have needed a Snickers.” Good on Culpepper for making the apology, but it was a too-little, too-late attempt to redeem his makeover of the Culpepper Brand. (As you may have gathered, I don’t give Brad Culpepper a lot of leeway.)
-Zeke has moved on from his outing on the show and feels much better about the place he’s in. Varner has also moved on. It’s significant, though, that there was no interaction between the two of them at the reunion.
-Probst FINALLY revealed what the final vote tie-breaker would be. In the event of a tie, the third finalist goes to the jury and casts the deciding vote. It’s revealed that had Culpepper taken Tai rather than Sarah to the Final Three, we would have had a 5-5 tie and Troyzan casting the deciding vote (almost certainly to Culpepper.) To his credit, Culpepper pointed out that it’s hard to take a vote now, so far after the fact. (He leaves unsaid that the final Tribal Council would have been much different with Tai rather than Sarah.) I’m bummed that Probst finally let this out of the bag, since it would have made GREAT television to unleash it only when needed. But maybe Probst just got tired of waiting and despairs of it ever being done. (Meaning we can almost certainly look forward to it in the fall.)
-Speaking of which, this fall Survivor will bring you Healers vs Heroes vs Hustlers. Three tribes separated by the positive aspects of their careers! For about a week, until they become the backstabbing bastards we all know and love.