“Espionage behind every coconut tree.” Survivor: Game Changers April 19, 2017 recap

27 Apr
At the beginning of this episode, the two tribes go to see Jeff Probst and see the traditional “merge feast” spread out behind him. There is also a mysterious covered table next to him. Probst announces that one person from each tribe must volunteer to go without food. If that doesn’t happen, everyone will only get what’s on the covered table: namely one cracker with cheese per person, and a bottle of ice tea for everyone to share!
Quickly, Brad volunteers, saying “it’s what Monica would do,” meaning his wife who was on Survivor previously. And Tai volunteers for the blue team. How many brownie points does this win the two men? Cirie probably speaks for everyone when she tells us, “Everything in this game is calculated.” I guess this had the potential to be a dramatic moment, but it kind of falls flat.
Sierra reminds us that her legacy advantage can only be used at two junctures in the game, and this is the first of them with 13 people left. As for Brad, he wants to gun for either Hali or Michaela. Debbie, meanwhile, is busy getting drunk, twerking and mooning people. She claims (to us) that it was all an act and just strategy, and she didn’t have a sip of alcohol. Also, Zeke fills in everyone on the Jeff Varner controversy from the last tribal council.
Lots of people are talking about voting Michaela out, or would be if she didn’t keep sneaking up on the people having this discussion. However, the alliance of Zeke-Cirie-Andrea-Sarah is more interested in keeping Michaela around since there’s a chance she could join them later. Hali, more or less a free agent, feels the same way.
Cirie has some advice for Michaela: “You have to control your emotions.”
The immunity challenge involves standing on tiptoes and pressing a block onto a crossbar with the top of one’s head. It comes down to Andrea and Tai, and Andrea wins.
Who to vote out? Sierra thinks Hali must have an idol since she is acting so confident. She wants to split the vote between Hali and Michaela, but tell the two of them that the vote is for Zeke. Surprisingly she tells this to Cirie who was just now portrayed as Zeke’s ally. Then we see Cirie tells Michaela to vote Zeke. How does that help Cirie?
At tribal council there is much talk about what a crazy day it was. And I’m sure it was, but not in a particularly entertaining way. Jeff Probst asks the group: if someone wants to deny he has an idol, why doesn’t he just offer to strip down and empty his bag? Hali announces “I’ll shake down in front of everyone right now,” but only if someone asks her to, she won’t just do it.
It’s time to vote, and Cirie shows us that her vote is for Michaela and says “This is to save your life and mine.” Huh? It is also announced that Hali is voted out and is the first jury member. So it looks like a 10-person jury and a final three.
On to the second half of the double episode. Cirie tells Michaela she can’t let anyone know about their alliance. Cirie and Zeke talk about voting out Brad or Sierra. Andrea agrees, but tells Zeke they can’t tell Debbie or Tai about their plans. But Zeke tells us that Cirie and Andrea are much bigger strategic threats than Sierra. And Zeke tells Debbie and Tai that Cirie and Andrea are tight, but Debbie is skeptical.
I skipped over a not particularly notable reward challenge just now. Let’s get to the immunity challenge, which involves wrapping oneself around a pole high in the air and hanging on as long as possible. I remember Ozzy doing this in his original Cook Islands season. Probst tells us Ozzy has done this twice, and won the challenge both times. It comes down to Andrea, Tai, and Ozzy, then just the two men who are up there at least half an hour longer than anyone else. Finally Ozzy can’t hold on anymore and slides down, his arm bleeding.
Now, I have no idea why Zeke is suddenly on a mission to get rid of Andrea, but he is. Someone talks about voting Zeke, then Debbie proposes voting out Ozzy.
At tribal council, Ozzy is asked by Probst how this differs from his first three seasons. Ozzy answers “there’s espionage behind every coconut tree.” Everyone goes to the voting booth, and after they’re done, Debbie announced that she “gave up the basic necessities of life” on Exile Island in order to gain the advantage of an extra vote (she is sticking to the roughing-it story since nobody is in a position to disprove it). She goes back to vote a second time.
Alas, Ozzy is voted out.
The votes are as follows:
1 vote Sierra: Cirie (???)
1 vote Aubry: Zeke (just as mystifying)
4 votes Zeke: Andrea, Aubry, Michaela, Ozzy
7 votes Ozzy: Brad, Sierra, Troyzan, Sarah, Tai, Debbie, and a second vote from Debbie
So Debbie essentially wasted her extra vote.
Perhaps this recap did not make a whole lot of sense. Well, neither did the episode because we did not see anything that made us understand the relationship between Zeke, Andrea, Cirie, and Aubry and where what went sour.
contenders: 1. Brad, 2. Cirie, 3. Sierra, 4. Aubry, 5. Andrea, 6. Troyzan, 7. Zeke, 8. Sarah
no chance: Tai, Debbie, Michaela
jury and who I think they’ll vote for: Hali (no idea), Ozzy (Zeke)

“What I’m showing is a deception.” Survivor: Game Changers April 12, 2017 recap

16 Apr
Debbie, as scheduled, joins the blue tribe which just lost a member. She has decided not to tell about how luxurious Exile Island was for her, complaining “there was no flint.” Meanwhile, Tai correctly tells us, “I’m terrible at Tribal.” And Zeke tells Varner that though he had to lie about Sandra not being the target at the vote, he’s sincere about going to the end with Varner.
The reward challenge is for ten pizzas for the winning seven-player tribe! Led by Ozzy’s usual athletic excellence, the blue tribe wins. On a side note, Cirie, bizarrely, participates wearing a dress. Is that a Survivor first for Day 17? Maybe she had some sort of wardrobe malfunction and the producers had to step in.
Having failed to win the reward, the orange tribe is in tears at their camp from the hunger and the exhaustion on Day 17. Brad tells everyone he now understands why his Monica was such a wreck after going the full 39 days on their prior season, and that he wasn’t able to comprehend it then since he went out pretty early that season. Aubry tells us viewers that in her opinion Brad is the most genuine person in the game. And Brad has a fivesome in mind that he wants to move forward with: Troy, Sierra, Aubry, and Cirie. Which is bad news for Michaela and Hali.
On the blue tribe, meanwhile, the odd man out is clearly Jeff Varner, who tells us his only chance is to “throw some shade” on someone, that person being Ozzy.
In the immunity challenge, Blue has a big lead but then has to unscramble a long word at the end and can’t get it. Hali figures out that it’s “metamorphosis,” bringing the win to her tribe. So yet again, Cirie escapes going to tribal council!
So who will be voted out for blue, Jeff Varner or Ozzy? Zeke wants Ozzy to stay in the game because he wants bigger threats than himself to take the attention off of him. That was really the problem in Zeke’s prior season: he suddenly found himself the biggest threat remaining.
Zeke has another friendly chat with Varner, and the tidbit Varner gleans from it is that Zeke and Ozzy have some sort of understanding, officially or unofficially. He decides to tell the women about that, and Sarah and Andrea take everything he says at face value and are furious at Zeke (I don’t think Varner actually lies about anything here, just puts the most negative possible spin on things Zeke said).
At tribal council, Jeff really lays in on thick, prosecuting like Hamilton Burger to the power of ten (he kind of reminds me of Taylor’s over-the-top performance last season). He reveals the secret alliance between Zeke and Ozzy to the world and tells the women individually that they’re making a mistake. Not a bad strategy on his part … so far.
Then he says “There’s more…” and asks Zeke, “why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”
Zeke is silent. Ozzy and Andrea both have an “oh gosh” look.
Varner continues: “What I’m showing is a deception.”
Then everyone else starts to yell at him — that’s too personal! Andrea starts crying.
Varner says he argues for the rights of transgender people every day in North Carolina. That doesn’t pacify the others, and even Jeff Probst is pretty critical. Varner apologizes. All this time Zeke is silent except to say he never brought it up in two seasons.
Later in the conversation (which takes up the last 15 minutes or so of the show), Zeke explains that he doesn’t want the label of being transgender, he just wants to be known for himself. We hear the various reactions, the most notable one being that of Sarah who, in tears, says “that was a malicious attack what he did.” This coming from a cop who presumably has seen some pretty awful things. Varner backtracks as fast as he can this whole time, but the damage is done. Finally Jeff Probst says, “We don’t need to vote, just grab your torch.” Surprisingly , Varner and Zeke share a long hug.
A few thoughts on all of this:
– As it was going on, my first thought was that the show lingered on it a bit too long, but now I think it was just right.
– One thing I love about Survivor is the way they do reaction shots. On some reality shows, when they want to show “surprise” they find footage of someone with his mouth so wide open you could stick an apple into it. Here, the more subtle reactions of Ozzy and Andrea were much more powerful.
– It was quite clear that not only did nobody in the cast know Zeke was transgender, few in his personal life did either. So to reveal this was quite shocking, especially coming from Varner, who as mentioned last week, is gay himself. It really was a malicious attack, and on top of that I’m not sure how that was supposed to help his goal of getting Ozzy voted out! And even if he had, how do you go from that to hoping to get any votes at a final tribal council?
– Poor Zeke. Not only was a very personal secret of his revealed against his will, having who-knows-what negative effect on his life, but there’s no question that this also hurts him in a game. To be a sympathetic character is to be a “jury threat” in this game, meaning nobody wants to take you to the finals.
Certainly a memorable episode, but for all the wrong reasons.
contenders: 1. Brad, 2. Cirie, 3. Sierra, 4. Andrea, 5. Aubry, 6. Ozzy, 7. Hali, 8. Troyzan, 9. Zeke, 10. Sarah
no chance: Tai, Debbie, Michaela

“Three gay men together.” Survivor: Game Changers April 5, 2017 recap

6 Apr
It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited in the six days between Survivor episodes. I was just so curious who the returning Survivor would be. That part turned out to be a huge disappointment, but it was still a pretty good episode.
We begin with Aubry congratulating everyone on the move to take out her ally J.T. Aubry resolves to learn from Sandra’s gameplay.
Tai’s idol clue (which he received last episode) involved pouring water on a board to reveal a symbol. He figures out that board must be at the tribe’s well. He finds the symbol and then the hidden immunity idol. This is twice that Tai has been able to look for an idol in a pretty secluded area, unlike Troyzan who really had to work for his!
When the tribes gather, Jeff Probst tells them to drop their buffs. Everyone draws a new color, except for Debbie who draws no color at all. The new tribes form into groups and Tai hugs Zeke and Varner saying, “Three gay men together.” That’s no breaking news in the case of Tai and Zeke, but is it for Varner? His first season was so long ago that I really don’t remember.
The new orange tribe is: Troy, Michaela, Sierra, Hali, Aubry, Cirie, and Brad. Two men and five women.
The new blue tribe is: Sandra, Sarah, Varner, Andrea, Zeke, Tai, and Ozzy. Has Sandra lost her numbers advantage?
Probst tells Debbie that she is “going nowhere except to … Exile Island.” Wow! That is the first time Exile Island has been used in a long time. Actually, fact-checking that, it was used in the relatively recent Blood vs. Water (season 29, the current season being 34) but its heyday was seasons 12 through 18, so we haven’t seen much of it in the last eight calendar years.
We don’t see too much of the new orange tribe other than Brad trying to bond with Troy. The two do have something of a link since Troy played with Brad’s wife Monica in Survivor: One World.
On the blue tribe, that student of the game Zeke knows that it’s dangerous to let Sandra stay in the game, but he also knows that she literally has never been voted out. He decides that the only way to go after Sandra and Varner is make them think someone else is being targeted, so the cover story is that everyone wants Tai out. Zeke realizes this maneuver could blow up in the faces of him and his friends.
Tai meanwhile, being at a different camp than when we started the episode, wonders if this camp could have an idol hidden at the same corresponding place to the one at his former camp. Indeed it does, and now Tai has two idols! Too many idols on this season, say I.
Debbie soon finds out that Exile Island is no lonely stretch of sand but a ship. And not just a ship, but one well-stocked with creature comforts including plenty of food. And soon, we see a boat motoring toward hers, obviously carrying the returning Survivor who was mentioned last week.
As I mentioned last week, I was hoping they had found some excuse to get Malcolm or Tony back into the game. I allowed myself to fantasize that an all-time great character like Boston Rob or Russell would be shaking up the season. I even briefly considered the possibility that we would see the legendary first-season winner Richard Hatch (we have three gay men on the season, why not four?). Finally we see onto the boat and the returnee is … John Cochran, the nerdy winner of Survivor: Caramoan (whose season’s name is misspelled on the show’s graphic). Not quite what I was hoping for.
But we soon find out that Cochran is not joining the cast, but is just here as an advisor to Debbie. And Cochran tells us viewers he wonders how much advice he can give, since on Debbie’s first season she acted like she thought she knew everything. And he notes that one of her fatal flaws is overconfidence. We soon see a case in point. Cochran asks her, “Do you have any fears, or do you have any reservations about people …” “I don’t,” Debbie says. What? Now come on, Debbie. I mean, she certainly has reservations about Brad Culpepper whom she spent all of last episode yelling about and/or carping at.
Cochran gives Debbie some tips which knowing her she won’t listen to. But then he also hands her an “advantage option.” She hugs him and sobs! We find out that advantage option means she can choose one of three advantages: 1) a fake idol kit, 2) an extra vote, or 3) an advantage at one challenge for her tribe.
My first impression is that the extra vote is the best choice, and that’s what Debbie chooses. I don’t think a fake idol has ever really helped someone win the game (though they have provided lots of entertainment), and the challenge advantage would only help before a merge which is probably not that far away.
Not that the extra vote has ever helped someone win the game yet either. To recap, it was negated by a hidden immunity idol when used by Dan, completely botched through overthinking by Stephen Fischbach, and as Debbie will remember, was used by Tai ineffectively as Debbie looked on from the jury box. I’ll be interested to see if Debbie can do better.
Back at camp, Zeke sees Jeff Varner as a potential future ally, but for now he has to sell his fake story about Tai being the target. Jeff buys it, but when he reports back to Sandra, she smells a rat.
The immunity challenge involves dragging a very heavy sled up a beach. The orange tribe does that faster than blue and also solves a puzzle in no time. Here’s what strikes me immediately: guess who still hasn’t gone to even one tribal council: Cirie. There’s a reason she is near the top of my contender rankings.
Sandra needs to make a move. She starts working the angle to Zeke that he doesn’t want Debbie, Tai, and Aubry to join up since all of them were on the same season. But I’m not sure why that would be a big deal. Yes, Debbie will be joining this tribe since they’re going to lose a person, but she wasn’t tight with Tai or Aubry in Kaoh Rong. Plus Aubry isn’t even on this blue tribe right now. Still, Sarah is tempted by the pitch, noting that Sandra “just starts to suck you in.” It certainly seems that Ozzy, Andrea, and Sarah, none of whom have had much camera time all season, have formed an alliance.
For whatever reason, Tai chooses to throw a spanner into the works. He tells Varner that Sandra is being targeted, to the consternation of Ozzy who is standing right there.
Time for tribal council, the first of the season for lucky ducks Zeke, Sarah, Ozzy, and Andrea. Sandra starts by saying she thinks she’s a goner, and Zeke looks terrified as he knows this can only be the start of a maneuver of some kind. But for whatever reason, the move is made by Tai, who says he’ll give Sandra and Varner a name to vote for, and he whispers one to them. Varner points out that to make that happen, the three of them would need a fourth person since seven people are there, and it’s obvious Tai had not thought it through that far. Still, Ozzy looks like he’s going to throw up. After the whispering, Sarah says “Do you want to share with all of us?” and Tai says “I just named Ozzy.”
So now Tai is a major target. Sandra tells Andrea “Varner and I will vote with you,” if her group opts to take out Tai. Surely they won’t fall for it?
It’s a tense few moments. When votes are read, nobody plays an idol, and Sandra is voted out. She’s surprisingly gracious, and Probst notes that this is the first time in 94 days of playing that she’s being voted out. As she leaves, there’s a round of applause for her!
In my rankings, there are some changes, including moving Zeke down from #1 to #3. He’s just not staying under the radar enough for my taste.
contenders: 1. Brad, 2. Cirie, 3. Zeke, 4. Sierra, 5. Andrea, 6. Aubry, 7. Ozzy, 8. Troyzan, 9. Hali, 10. Sarah, 11. Varner
no chance: Tai, Debbie, Michaela

“She’s like a crazy lady.” Survivor: Game Changers March 29 2017 recap

6 Apr
J.T. denies to his tribemates that he told Brad that they were going to vote for Sierra (which is of course a lie). J.T. knows he’s in trouble and really needs a hidden immunity idol. He goes looking and finds an identical clue to the one Tai found last episode. With everyone away from the spot, J.T. is soon able to dig it up.
Before the reward challenge, we see the tribes discuss amongst themselves who will be doing which task at the challenge. This stuff is only ever shown when it will come back to haunt someone, either due to someone acting bossy or someone claiming he will be able to do something that he will later fail at …
The red team has a lead but alas, Debbie is not able to do the part that involves balancing a ball on a disc and crossing a balance beam. Or at least she has to try it multiple times, and while she is doing so the challenge ends. So no reward for the team. As the tribe leaves we hear Debbie tell us viewers that Brad is a dictator who gives all the orders and doesn’t listen, but we are shown a rare Survivor flashback that reminds us that before the challenge Debbie told Brad she has a “really good sense of balance.” 
On the green tribe, Sarah proposes an alliance to Troyzan in the most cautious way imaginable. Troy is naturally hoping not to have to play his idol. Sarah, a cop, tells us she is going to lie to the others the way criminals lie to her. 
At the red camp, Debbie grabs a bunch of stuff and leaves camp, she’s upset. Turns out it’s because she thinks Brad doesn’t show her any respect, while Hali gets whatever she wants. Tai tries to calm her down but tells us “she’s like a crazy lady.” Then Debbie, after spending the last few minutes exploding in anger, tells us “I don’t explode in anger.”
On the blue tribe, Michaela is eating too much sugar to suit JT, so Sandra secretly eats all the rest of the sugar hoping JT will blame Michaela. And back at the red camp, Tai finds an idol clue. This is getting a bit ridiculous in terms of these clues and idols being too easy to find (for everyone except Troy).
Time for the immunity challenge which includes a balance beam. Debbie insists on doing that part and refuses to even discuss it. Then during the first phase of the challenge Debbie keeps carping to Brad. When the balance beam part rolls around, Debbie (who was evidently overruled) keeps complaining that Hali is doing it rather than the gymnast (i.e. Debbie). Red actually wins the challenge thanks to Brad’s ace performance on the slingshot. So Ozzy and J.T, vie for the critical second place, and Ozzy barely beats him. This also ensures another episode of almost no camera time for the green tribe (in case you have forgotten about them completely, they are Ozzy, Zeke, Cirie, Andrea, Troyzan, and Sarah).
On the blue tribe, Aubry thinks Michaela has to go. And Jeff Varner says he’s behind the idea 100%. But Sandra sees her alliance as Varner and Michaela. So it’s Varner’s decision: will he side with them to vote J.T. out, or with J.T. and Aubry to vote Michaela out? The tribal council is mostly about Michaela and how hard she is to live with. After the votes are cast, Jeff Probst announces that this would be the time to play an idol … and J.T. does nothing! He is voted out, 3-2, with an idol in his pocket. Two dumb moves in two weeks for J.T. I don’t care if he won a season, this guy sucks at Survivor!
After J.T. is gone, Sandra admits the ate the sugar.
Why this decision for Varner, other than the fact that J.T. makes a lousy ally? Probably it’s because the idea of allying with two villains to take a target off of himself is pretty appealing.
In the previews for next week, there is something about a former Survivor returning. Please let it be Tony and/or Malcolm. That would be bad for the integrity of the game, but great for entertainment value.
contenders: 1. Zeke, 2. Cirie, 3. Aubry, 4. Andrea, 5. Brad, 6. Ozzy, 7. Sierra, 8. Sandra, 9. Hali, 10. Varner
not sure: Sarah, Troyzan
no chance: Tai, Debbie, Michaela

“J.T.’s not getting a Christmas card.” Survivor: Game Changers March 23, 2017 recap

23 Mar

The reward challenge at the beginning of the episode will be played by just two members of each tribe. Green understandably picks all-time great challenge competitor Ozzy, and also Troyzan. The blue tribe sends J.T. and Malcolm, and red goes with Tai and Brad. Blue finishes first, and red overtakes green for second thanks to an incredible display of throwing by Brad Culpepper who throws like he’s Daunte Culpepper!

Ozzy thinks losing was OK — with no food reward, his tribe needs his fishing skills. We see some incredible underwater shots of him fishing, and he soon brings back a huge ray for the tribe to eat.

On the blue tribe, Sandra tells us she’s running the show, blah blah blah, and J.T. suggests to Malcolm that they get rid of Sandra.

The challenge is the one we see some form of every season, with blindfolded players being led by a caller who tells them what to do. Before the start, Jeff Probst drops the bombshell that two tribes will be going to tribal council.

In the final phase following the blindfolded part, Jeff Varner’s blue team has a huge lead but he still has to navigate a ball through one of those very tricky mazes. Andrea from the green tribe is gaining on him. Jeff is inches away, but then the ball drops through a hole in the maze, and Andrea soon hits paydirt.

Afterwards Probst has yet another bombshell: the blue and red tribes will be going to Tribal Council together, with a joint vote to send home one person!

The blue team feels pretty good about this twist since they have six people and red only has five. But will J.T. vote with the other tribe? He says no. Sandra says they should target Sierra, the strongest woman. And J.T. and Malcolm think Brad will get the troops on the red team to target Sandra.

The red team has the same questions about Hali that blue has about J.T. It seems J.T. will be the deciding factor.

Tai goes looking for an idol and finds a clue, but unlike Troyzan who really had to sweat last episode, Tai simply needs to find a certain spot (that’s not all that close to camp) and dig there. Once he has the idol, he tells his tribemates (except for Hali) about it.

Time for Tribal Council. Hali is talking, and Sandra whispers to her group that it sounds like Hali wants Brad out. Both groups then do a lot of whispering amongst themselves, but both resolve to stick with their original plans. Sierra hears something that makes her fret that she’s the target.

J.T. asks Malcolm if he should talk to Brad. Then J.T. gets up and walks over to whisper in Brad’s ear! J.T. says “I love you brother, but they’re voting Sierra out.” Then Hali walks all the way over to Sandra and whispers,”You have to do Brad. It’s better for us, I promise.” Now J.T. and Brad are meeting a couple of steps back from the rest of the group. “You swear?” Brad asks? J.T. says yes. Then suddenly there are too many whispered conversations to keep track of, and Probst is loving every second of it.

Finally Probst, as always, says it’s time to vote, and he tells Hali she’s up. She replies, “I didn’t consent.” So there’s still more discussion as Probst wears a huge smile.

The votes are read and Probst says it’s time to play an idol. Tai does play his, on Sierra. Probst reads the votes, and the first six votes are all for Sierra. Then comes the next vote … Malcolm! And before you know it, Malcolm is out of the game!

As exciting as the tribal council was, this is a disastrous turn of events, as now the two most entertaining characters, Tony and Malcolm, are out of the game after just four votes. The producers must be aghast.

As the blue team walks out, Michaela whispers that J.T. must have set them up. And in Malcolm’s final confessional he tells us “J.T.’s not getting a Christmas card.” So it’s fair to assume everyone else on the blue tribe is mad at J.T. But I doubt the orange tribe loves the guy either. What the heck was he doing? I didn’t see the Tocantins season when J.T. played a “perfect game,” so all I can judge him on is the disastrous moves he made both in Heroes vs. Villains and in this season so far.

Time for my first rankings of the year, and they won’t include Malcolm who was my early favorite to win it all. Right now I don’t know that I can rule anyone out, except for J.T. (see above) and Tai. I think Tai is just too wishy-washy to win this season or any other. And while Brad and Sandra have been probably the most prominent characters so far, I am betting for now on some who are staying under the radar a bit more.

contenders: 1. Zeke, 2. Cirie, 3. Aubry, 4. Andrea, 5. Brad, 6. Ozzy, 7. Sierra, 8. Sandra

not sure: Hali, Sarah, Troyzan, Varner, Debbie, Michaela

no chance: Tai, J.T.

“It will require you to be daring” Survivor: Game Changers March 15, 2017 recap

23 Mar

The episode begins with an unusual kind of tribe swap, changing from two tribes to three! Among the new combinations, we see Tai reunited with his old Kaoh Rong tribemate Caleb. Tai says he is “still looking for that kiss.” Meanwhile, the third tribe, wearing green buffs, has to start a new camp and build a new shelter.

On the blue tribe, J.T. looks to be in trouble as the other five people are all from a different original tribe. He has an idea: he suggests that everyone go snorkeling, half a mile out at sea at that. Then when Malcolm breaks a spear, J.T. says he can swim back to get a pair of pliers. He does, and starts looking for the idol. The only problem is, he spends way too much time doing so, and the other players figure out that something’s up. By the way, J.T. is way more “country” than I remembered — to the point that he’s sometimes a bit hard to understand.

On the orange tribe, we get the revelation that Brad Culpepper, former NFL defensive lineman, loves … antiquing and decorating? I wasn’t expecting that. On the chopping block are Hali and Caleb. Tai wants Caleb to stick around but the others are wary of having the two of them plus Kaoh Rong castmate Debbie all together as a potential strong trio.

On the new green tribe, Troyzan is in much the same situation as J.T. as an obvious first boot. It’s him against the world, which is more or less the way it was on his prior season too! So Troy goes looking for a hidden immunity idol, and at least finds a clue. It says “it will require you to be daring,” and that’s because the idol can only be picked up during the next challenge! There’s a diagram of exactly where it will be.

Back at the blue tribe, J.T. says he could catch a goat, and he does, bare-handed. Malcolm grabs one too. But they realize it’s a mother and her kid, and debate whether they should kill them. Sandra is all for doing so, leading Malcolm to note “She was a villain [on Heroes vs. Villains] for a reason.” The group ultimately lets the goats go.

It’s time for the challenge. By the way, the team immunity idol is in the shape of an old diving helmet. Troyzan realizes he will have no chance to grab the hidden idol until the challenge is over, since his task is to untie knots at the same table where it’s hidden, during which time all eyes will be on him.

As with the only previous idol ever hidden at a challenge (and successfully grabbed by  Kelley Wentworth in Survivor: Second Chance) it’s incredibly dramatic. Troyzan is understandably extremely anxious, as are we viewers along with him. The challenge comes down to the next step after the knot-untying part, and whichever team comes in third has to go to Tribal Council. Green narrowly avoids third place, and a “relieved” Troyzan pretends to collapse across the table. He feels around in the approximate spot but can’t get his hands on the idol! But then he drops to his knees “with exhaustion,” spots the idol and quickly stuffs it down his pants before standing up.

The orange team came in last, so will Hali or Caleb be voted out? Tai and Brad have a talk once Tai has covered himself with sand (I don’t recall anyone ever doing this on Survivor before). It’s unclear how the conversation turns out. By the way, the three Kaoh Rong alums aren’t the only former castmates on the tribe, but Sierra avows that she and Hali didn’t have any relationship on Worlds Apart, and everyone seems to accept that.

All in all this is a pretty boring episode, and it ends with Caleb being voted out. Like his prior season with the medical evacuation, this one ends on Day 9.


“Gonna push us out of Zen mode.” Survivor: Game Changers Season Premiere recap

12 Mar

The location for this 34th season is once again Fiji, and we begin by seeing the cast on board ship, with glimpses of all-time greats like Tony (Cagayan), Sandra (Pearl Islands and Heroes vs. Villains), and Ozzy (three prior seasons). The “game changers” credentials of others are a bit more questionable, like Troyzan (Survivor: One World) and Brad Culpepper (the 15th-place finisher in Survivor: Blood vs. Water). Then there are a blonde and two brunettes who I’ve never seen before in my life. Check that: when the blonde’s caption appears, it’s Sierra from Survivor: Worlds Apart who I very vaguely remember as being a rodeo cowgirl … until I see that she actually finished 5th, and that was just four seasons ago! One of the brunettes is revealed to be Hali from Worlds Apart, who I do recall was on the “no collar” tribe. Having finished 11th, she was hardly a “game changer,” though you could perhaps argue that she was game-changingly good-looking. The other brunette is one Sarah Lacina, who it turns out finished 11th on Survivor: Cagayan. Even after looking that up, I still do not remember anything about her whatsoever.

As in several prior seasons, once Jeff Probst is done with his preamble he tells the players that they have a short time to grab as many supplies as they can off this ship and take them to shore. He also announces that tied up underneath the water a fair distance from the boat is a box of tools. Someone immediately says “Ozzy’s gotta go,” and the ace swimmer does immediately head towards the tools. The other tribe doesn’t even bother to send someone initially … who could ever out-swim Ozzy?

In all the chaos someone picks up some supplies without noticing that an envelope with “secret advantage” printed on it falls to the deck. The aforementioned Sierra sees it presently and tucks it into her shorts. At the end. Ozzy’s tribe has the chickens and the most supplies. in addition to the toolkit.

Yet it’s the other tribe, wearing orange buffs, that hits the beach first. We see Michaela from the prior Millennials vs. Gen-X season, who vows to keep her facial expressions under control (she did anything but when she played before). In no time, Tony playfully announces “I’m out, I’m looking for the idol,” and races off. He expects someone to chase after him, but when no one does he figures he might as well start looking, for real. I missed Tony — he is so entertaining and even his voice is hilarious.

On the blue tribe, Sierra opens her secret advantage to find it’s the Legacy Advantage that debuted last season. But there’s a twist: this one can only be used when there are 13 people left in the game or 6 people left in the game.

Ozzy surveys the other players and tells us the only one he’s scared of is Cirie (three prior seasons),  since she had a hand in voting him out of Fans vs. Favorites. He says something to that effect to Tai (Kaoh Rong), but when he and Cirie talk, he tells her it’s water under the bridge and everything’s fine. By the way, interspersed with these conversations are shots of some shark fins all too close to shore! Soon, Tai tells Cirie she needs to work things out with Ozzy. Wait, did Ozzy just say something today about us not being OK?, Cirie asks Tai. An extremely long silence ensues, with Tai obviously trying to think of some kind of plausible lie, and failing miserably!

At the orange tribe, Tony goes to “get water” and ends up sprinting toward the well. The inventor of the “spy shack” has decided he is going to build a “spy bunker” near the well this time. Not that his plan makes much sense: it’s one thing to pile up enough branches to hide behind, and a much bigger job to basically dig a ditch, plus he’s doing it just a few feet from the well!

I haven’t yet mentioned Ciera (Blood vs. Water and Second Chance) who tells us she has played with three winners in Tyson, Aras, and Tina and learned something from all of them. In a group discussion she observes that Tony has befriended Caleb (the guy who was medically evacuated from Kaoh Rong) and proposes splitting the vote between two of them. Not a fan of this is our old friend Malcolm (Philippines and Fans vs. Favorites II) who definitely wants to keep these bigger threats around to distract from him, and similarly inclined is Aubry (Kaoh Rong). Malcolm bemoans that Ciera looks to be “the one that’s gonna push us out of Zen mode on this tribe.”

When everyone assembles for the first challenge, Probst announces a rules change: when there is a tie vote at tribal council there will not, as in prior seasons, be a re-vote in which only the two people who tied can be voted for and those two people do not participate. Instead, it is on to the next step (an open discussion in an effort to make the vote unanimous) and if that doesn’t work, it’s time for the drawing of rocks to send one person home. One ramification of this is immediately clear to Andrea (Redemption Island and Fans vs. Favorites II)— splitting the votes can now be a dangerous strategy. By the way, I loooove Andrea. But readers of this blog know that.

With 20 players in the game, there are some big personalities who have scarcely gotten any camera time, a case in point being Debbie (Kaoh Rong)!

The orange team loses, and the consensus seems to be that everyone is voting for Ciera. But they tell Ciera the vote is for Michaela. Michaela is certainly fine with the Ciera choice, but when she finds out she herself is the cover story she quickly freaks out. Plenty of pouting and making faces ensues, in true Michaela fashion. “Wow, she’s scary, bro,” Tony says.

The Tribal Council set is a very cool-looking shipwreck scene including a lighthouse that’s the voting booth! I neglected to mention that there is also a  rusted shipwreck just offshore from one of the gameplay sites. The vote is straightforward, with Ciera getting every vote but her own.

Before we continue to the second half of this double-elimination episode, I should note there are three other players I hadn’t yet mentioned: Zeke (Millennials vs. Gen-X), J. T. (Tocantins and Heroes vs. Villains), and Jeff Varner (The Australian Outback and Second Chance).

The next day, Tony says he wants to make some moves. He envisions an alliance of himself, Aubry, Malcolm, Caleb, and Sandra. He wants to keep big threats around to take attention off of himself, and Aubry says she feels the same (we already know Malcolm does). The following night there is a great shot of everyone sleeping … except Tony who is standing around nervously. He wants to finish his “spy bunker,” which is odd because everyone has noticed the dug-up earth. He tries to lie down in the small ditch and cover himself up, Rambo-style, but then when he hears Sandra and Troyzan coming, he crawls away. He catches some snatches of their conversation (which sounds quite harmless based on what we viewers are shown) but then he decides to burst in and ask them what they are talking about. Their answers make no sense, making Tony suspicious, and with that, the Tony/Sandra alliance is over before it started.

On the blue tribe, Cirie notices that Ozzy and J.T. have hit it off, which she thinks is bad for her.Where are her allies going to come from? She tries to bond with Sarah and also Zeke, who tells us his gut tells him it’s too early to align with someone that everyone is gunning for. Cirie chats up Debbie too, but Debbie tells us, “I assessed it, I don’t buy it.”

Back to the orange tribe. Sandra is now recruiting an anti-Tony alliance, and seemingly signing on are Varner, Hali, Troyzan, and Michaela. Tony observes this and tells Aubry that the two of them, Malcolm, and Caleb need to find one more person.

The challenge is to get a long, heavy fake snake out of a high cage that’s partially underwater. Probst says the snake weighs over 400 pounds. The orange tribe struggles more, and Probst mentions several times how little Varner is contributing. The blue tribe’s lead is huge, but somehow Malcolm solves a puzzle in no time and also puts on an incredible display of ring-tossing to almost tie it, but his tribe just barely falls short.

So Tony’s tribe is going to tribal council needing a fifth person to vote out Sandra. What about Michaela? She’s disgusted at her team’s challenge performances, so Caleb argues to her that they shouldn’t keep the unathletic Sandra.

To cut to the chase, Tony is voted out almost unanimously, though Sandra votes Aubry for reasons that are unclear. As he walks out Sandra can’t help talking trash to send him on his way.

Tony is arguably the most entertaining Survivor player ever, so it’s sad to see him go in the first episode. I don’t think he would have had a chance to win the game, though.

Early favorite: Malcolm.