Survivor: Game Changers Recap
Episode 1, Part 1 -
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
March 8, 2017

At least her hair looked pretty.

Previously on Survivor, a bunch of people played over 17 years’ worth of seasons. Now, they’re all being jammed together orgy style in a last desperate attempt for the show to retain relevance. Last year’s ratings dropped to as low as 7.74 million, the worst ever. That had a lot to do with the contrived nature of the concept of Millennials vs. Gen X. This year, they’re trying to fix it by bringing back several favorites.

Still, since we’re talking about Survivor, many of the choices are some combination of ludicrous and/or infuriating. We’ll offer our thoughts on the people who have no business being back as the recap goes along. And since Jim Van Nest’s new job duties prevent him from analyzing this year’s episodes, we’re grudgingly making another appearance as your hosts. We’ll split the two-hour premiere into two articles, and we’ll also sprinkle in our explanations why we’re totally over Survivor.

Hint: Debbie Wanner will be a reason.

The season premiere begins with a reintroduction to some of the most memorable cast members ever to play the game. Also, Tony Vlachos is there. When we look back at the 30 plus seasons of Survivor, there may be five names we’d collate for the list of worst winner ever. He might not win that title, but he’s absolutely on the short list. Basically, Survivor cast a dirty cop who proceeded to lie his way through an entire season, and a bunch of allegedly smart people never once questioned his motives. Apparently, they were too busy going to grad school to watch any movies.

Any Survivor player who has done their homework knows not to trust a word out of Tony’s mouth, which makes him a functional eunuch. We’d call him The Spider, but Varys is a smart man, so the comparison isn’t apt.

After Tony performs his regular shtick (shameless self promotion), we get to what Survivor’s producers hope is the meat of the season. From Day 1, they championed Malcolm Freberg as the new Ozzy Lusth. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Malcolm is in luck this season, because Ozzy is also a competitor. There is nothing that the show’s evil emperor, Mark Burnett, wants more than a prolonged Ozzy/Malcolm feud for alpha male supremacy.

Don’t consider this feud to be an old man versus a kid, though. Ozzy is only five years older than Malcolm, which means that the grizzled veteran is the tenth oldest player this season. Meanwhile, there are seven players younger than Malcolm, so the two players basically represent the “middle” age this season. But if Probst says anything about Millennials or Gen X today, we’re deleting the episode off of TiVo and never watching the show again. That last season was an abomination.

For us, the real conversation this year starts with the third player they highlight, the one who will be the first person eliminated unless something amazing happens. In 2003 (yes, we were recapping this show 14 years ago, which makes us sad about our lives), we described Sandra Diaz as the best player on Survivor: Pearl Islands. Then, before Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains began, we boldly proclaimed she would win. Even in the early days of the Internet, people were hostile about those opinions, but we were two for two.

Sandra missed her calling in life as a political operative, because she has that rare ability to convince people to vote against their own interests, like when she seduced Parvati into keeping her around despite the fact that Sandra was the only real threat. Before a single second of this season plays out, Sandra is the best player. As the only two-time champion in the history of the show, however, she has a turkey’s chance during Thanksgiving week of surviving multiple votes.

Next up is Cirie, not to be confused with Ciera. Cirie famously didn’t like to touch bugs, dirt or the like, yet became a dangerous player over three seasons. In fact, her sterling reputation is why she was voted off early during Heroes vs. Villains. Cirie has game.

The circus comes to town for a moment as Debbie speaks. As is our practice, we fast-forward through her segment. Don’t worry, the closed captioning still shows. She makes some sort of Triple Crown comment, which makes us wonder if she’s now pretending to be a horse. At some point, Survivor decided to cast Jerry Springer outcasts as contestants. That’s around the time we turned on this show.

Now is the time when Probst makes a speech about the type of play he prefers. Here’s what we have to say on the subject. In the early years, we didn’t really like Probst, feeling he was a bit too vanilla. Then, we gradually warmed to him as he made more of an imprint on the show. Now, we’re back to our original opinion. We’re tired of him putting his thumbs on the scale, propping along terrible players like Tony, Cochran and Tyson so that they can somehow win what somehow feels like a fixed season. When he offers his thoughts, we have a thought. It’s that if people were more interested in Jeff Probst’s thoughts, the Jeff Probst Show wouldn’t have been cancelled after a year of horrific ratings.

Rather than doing a drawing as a way to introduce people, Probst simply announces teams. The Mana tribe consists Aubry, Michaela, Sandra, Ciera, Hali, Malcolm, Caleb, Troyzan, Jeff Varner and Tony. The Nuku tribe features Debbie, JT, Tai, Sierra (??), Zeke, Ozzy, Sarhah (??), Brad Culpepper, Andrea and Cirie. Anybody you don’t know by first name at this point is that way for a reason. They just weren’t memorable enough and their inclusion here is iffy. What we liked about the Heroes vs. Villains season is that most of the cast had established identities. That’s just not true of this all-star season. What we’ll also note is that Ozzy and Malcolm are “coincidentally” on different teams.

We immediately start with a challenge involving water and muscular jostling. Only one person per team will untie their underwater knots, releasing a massive tool kit, while the rest of the team gets as many other supplies they can into the raft. JT says what everyone on his tribe is thinking. “Ozzy, you gotta go.”

Someone forgot to tell Malcolm what was going to happen this season. When his tribe frustratingly notes that no one from their group is going for the tool kit, Malcolm simply states, “Ozzy’s here. No one else can get the tool kit.” This immediately becomes the worst feud since the 2016 presidential election.

Eventually, Caleb, who was once evacuated from the show for heat stroke, offers token resistance for his tribe. Andrea unearths a Secret Advantage, which falls on the deck of their boat. Alas, Andrea doesn’t notice it, and eventually Sierra grabs it and puts it in her pocket.

As prophesied by Malcolm, Ozzy earns the tool kit for Nuku (we love their cola!). Not only do they have the advantage of the tools, but they also got the chickens. As the two rafts depart, one tribe’s members are euphoric, while the others are shooting bitter, jealous glances their way. Round 1 goes to Nuku and it’s not close.

After the break, the less important players take this opportunity to puff out their chests about how important they are. Hali is apparently a cobra under your legs, which sounds like a really great YouTube video. Michaela has discovered a bit of self-awareness in the off-season. The impatient Millennial now plans to be nice to everyone and will hide all of her resting bitch face that she can. She also thinks that someone’s born name is “Troyzan,” which is just funny.

We’ll let Malcolm describe what happens next. (Maybe we should just let him recap the season.) “All of a sudden, that big bald maniac screams, ‘I’m going for the idol, baby, woo hoo hoo hoo!’” Malcolm immediately coins the phrase “pulling a Tony” for a stupid move. Change approved.

Caleb and Sandra offer to babysit Tony, making sure that he doesn’t actually get an idol. In reality, both of them want to get a closer look at how well he’d work as a human shield. Caleb sees a lot of promise in this human target. Meanwhile, Sandra continues to demonstrate how she’s ahead of the game. Rather than calculate the best way to execute him, she states that he’s a physical asset, so her tribe should keep him around. We love the way Sandra looks at everyone as geese. She uses them to lay golden eggs, and then chops off their heads and eats them for dinner. In the game of Survivor, Sandra is the one most confident that she’s going to eliminate everyone else at some point.

Over at Tribe Ozzy, everyone loves Ozzy. Based on past history, they’ll continue to love Ozzy until it suddenly dawns on them that everyone loves Ozzy. Then, they’ll hate Ozzy and want him gone.

Survivor superfan Zeke has always considered himself a mastermind; however, he seems star struck and desperately in need of autographs from his favorites. He then claims he wants to slather himself in the blood of his enemies, which is precisely why we imprison stalkers in this country. His ultimate goal on this season, called Survivor: Game Changes, is to “change the game.” We’ve seen better masterminds.

How long have we been recapping Survivor? We remember when JT was handsome and fit. We’re just joking, JT. Welcome to middle age. We have it, too. Wait, you’re just 31?!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Someone we only vaguely remember named Sarah is going to be the “silent assassin.” Just FYI.

Sierra opens the Legacy Advantage. Like last season, she can only use it when either 13 or six people are left in the game (her choice). If she is voted out, she must will it to someone else.

Meanwhile, former NFL player Brad Culpepper has accepted a couple of flaws from his previous game. While playing with his wife, Monica, she did really well, while he marked his territory in what we hope was only a figurative sense. This season, he’s remembering WWMD – What would Monica do? That includes slow playing early alliance negotiations. We give him five days before his inner control freak emerges again.

The one noteworthy aspect of early Nuku negotiations is that Ozzy is targeting Cirie. That’s because Cirie successfully manipulated his elimination in Fans vs. Favorites. Cirie’s comment is simple. “That was eight years ago or something. Get over it.”

Ozzy and Cirie shake hands and make good, by which we mean that Ozzy lies to Cirie’s face about the fact that he’s over it. She think’s they’re fine. Then, she talks to the world’s sweetest 52-year-old, Tai, who once again proves that he has no business playing Survivor. Cirie asks him if Ozzy really has forgiven her, and then Tai makes an awkward face and says nothing for 10 seconds, which is about 10 three times as long as she needs to know that she and Ozzy are not cool. If you ever see Tai across the poker table, you’re about to have a good night.

Back at Tribe Not Ozzy, Tony loudly offers to go get water for everyone. Twice. Believe it or not, this is a subtle ruse. He’s actually going to look for an immunity idol. He then starts digging what he calls a Spy Bunker, which will replace his previous season’s Spy Shacks. He can claim he’s doing that, but we’re pretty sure he thinks a bone is buried there. Troyzan catches him playing in the dirt, and Tony acts like his behavior is totally normal. Troy politely takes note of Tony’s guilty face and then walks away slowly. This is a good time to mention that Tony won a season of Survivor. How sad is that?

Tony’s crazy behavior causes two problems for him. The first is that his digging in the dirt causes people to believe that he’s looking for or has possibly found an idol. The second is that they’re trapped on a deserted island with a crazy person. Also, as far as spy bunkers go, this one is pretty obvious. The bad news for Caleb is that people view him as Tony’s right-hand man

The good news for both guys is that Ciera is the one pointing the finger at both of them. Malcolm, aka Lesser Ozzy, is currently in control of his tribe, and he wants those two around. He couldn’t care less if Ciera is there. The fact that they’re showing so much of this discussion seems like huge foreshadowing about the upcoming Immunity Challenge.

Immunity Challenge time! (Also, it’s time for the ceremonious first Probst sighting.)

Before the challenge, Probst tells them about a change for Tribal Councils. Tie votes will now go to an immediate tiebreaker. If everyone can’t agree unanimously on which of the people should be voted out, the two people will be immune and the rest of the tribe will draw rocks. That puts a crimp in people’s split the vote plans, doesn’t it?

Today’s Immunity Challenge is physically challenging, involving some water obstacles and then some digging (advantage to the team with Tony!). Once they’ve dug keys out of the ground, they have to unlock a chest that contains some puzzle pieces. Team Ozzy gets out to a huge lead, but Debbie is terrible at unlocking things.

The final phase of the challenge is the puzzle. In that final section, it’s Sandra and Ciera versus Zeke and Cirie. Ciera has done this puzzle before (and lost), and it looks like she’s going to lose again. Team Ozzy wins and takes home flint. Team Not Ozzy will be voting someone out.

Malcolm, Aubry, Tony, Caleb, Jeff and Sandra all discuss who to vote out. The consensus seems to be Ciera, since she’s the “weakest threat.” In front of Ciera, they say the vote will be Michaela. That’s all fine and good, until Michaela finds out that Ciera has been told to vote for her. She flips out, which actually alarms the people who were planning to vote for Ciera. Michaela is a “big” personality, and her reactions reflect that nature.

The first Tribal Council is pretty much standard stuff, other than Probst pointing out that Sandra is the logical first vote. She retorts by saying that people should want to take her to the end because since she’s won twice, no one is going to vote to give her a million dollars again.

Then, when Probst asks Michaela if she feels safe tonight, she says that she doesn’t think she’ll get out of the night without at least one vote against her. Ciera notices this very specific language, and her cheeks get flushed.

And she’s right to notice this distinction, because Michaela gets exactly one vote while Ciera gets the rest. For a “game changers” season, everyone settled for predictability on the first vote, and they also messed up by allowing Sandra to survive another day.

We were happy to see Ciera back, because she’s a lot tougher of a player than she gets credit for. And we’re still stuck with Tony. Maybe next time.