Survivor: Game Changers Recap
“Survivor Jackpot”
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
March 22, 2017

At least he has that awesome American flag tank top.

Previously on Survivor, Tony went up against Sandra and the results were predictable. For his next trick, he’ll challenge Michael Jordan to a slam-dunk competition. Seriously, Tony was a garbage player. We won’t miss him at all.

The most impressive moment last week was one Jeff Varner chronicled. Realizing that someone had actually targeted her, Sandra tried to negotiate an alliance. Within 15 minutes, she had five people, which is more than enough to make a deep run in the game. People can spend weeks on Survivor without making a single lasting alliance. Sandra can get a plurality during a coffee break. We suspect that players like Varner will remember that when her name finally does come up for discussion.

We start the episode with a Probst sighting, and when he asks the players what they think this might mean, they instantly know they’ll be dropping their buffs and forming new tribes. Since this season is called Game Changers, we’re expecting a historic amount of producer meddling.

This time, they’re split into three groups, including one brand new tribe. Mana puts Hali and Caleb on the wrong side of the numbers, as they’re grouped with Sierra, Debbie, Tai and Brad Culpepper. Nuku features JT alone on a tribe with a bunch of Mana people. He’s playing alongside Michaela, Malcolm, Sandra, Aubry and Varner. Then, our new tribe is Tavua. In this group, Troyzan is odd man out. He’s stuck with Cirie, Ozzy, Andrea, Sarah and Zeke.

Tavua has a brand new campsite, which will have fishing gear and need a new shelter. At this point, Probst reminds the gang that “anything is possible.” It’s not, of course. A giant yellow yeti isn’t going to surf onto the set. The most extreme legitimate possibility right now is that Tony comes storming onto the set, demanding that everyone vote again. And he’d still lose.

The next segment of the episode isn’t for fans of classic Disney animation…or basically anyone with a heart and/or conscience. The story at its core is, “Sandra is hungry, and JT is desperate.” JT considers himself at a 5-1 disadvantage after the swap. His first strategy is – and we’re not joking here – to pilot his teammates into the middle of the river, strand them at sea, and then head back to the island to look for an immunity idol.

In a shocking turn of events, the other players see through this strategy, presumably because they have nothing else to think about while abandoned in the deep water. When that plan fails, he moves onto to Secret Option B, which is to do anything Sandra says, no matter how deplorable the action is. We call it The Bannon Maneuver.

Did we mention that Sandra is hungry? She doesn’t want just any meal, though. McNuggets aren’t for her, which is regrettable given that her tribe has live chickens. No, Sandra’s hankering for goat. JT points out that a few of these sweet-looking creatures are within stalking distance, about 50 feet away. He offers to hunt one down and serve it to her, presumably on a silver platter as she shouts expletives at him for being unworthy of her notice. Basically, we see the duo as Burns and Smithers during the See My Vest routine, and JT is NOT Burns.

While people do eat goat at fine restaurants around the globe, it’s not the consumption of this particular food that’s upsetting. Instead, it’s the nature of the hunt. The tribe manages to trap a small goat that turns out to be a baby. Its mother freaks and closes ranks to protect the kid. That causes her capture. The contestants decide that they’d rather eat big momma, and the baby loses his mind for fear of having to grow up alone in this cruel world.

Several Survivors express guilt and/or remorse over the choice. Sandra isn’t one of them. She’d eat the baby right in front of its mother if she had the choice. That’s what’s striking about Sandra as a Survivor contestant. While a lot of frauds like Evil Loser Russell and Tony act like macho nihilists, she legitimately doesn’t give a damn what happens to anybody or anything outside of her family. That’s not a mother and child goat to her; it’s a lot of protein. When Sandra watches Bambi, she roots for the hunter.

For his part, JT doesn’t know what to do. His guilt consumes him, but he also doesn’t want to incur Sandra’s wrath. Frankly, between this incident and the events that led to his elimination in Heroes vs. Villains, JT’s status as a Survivor champion is almost as questionable as Tony’s, Coach’s, or Cochran’s.

Eventually, everyone agrees that eating a chicken is the more palatable option (on several levels). Sandra even relents. The other contestants have a deeper appreciation of who she is, though. Sandra’s someone who watches the horse head scene in The Godfather and gets ideas. If this were a horror movie, she wouldn’t be the damsel in distress on the beach. She’d be the monster.

Thankfully, GoatGate ends with all goats accounted for.

Another mention from Nuku bleeds over to the Mana tribe. Malcolm, Jeff, and JT marvel at the quality of the camp when they arrive. They point out that the trees even have decorative balls because when you’re trapped on a desert island, accessories are everything. We think the whole thing is hilarious until the story changes to Mana, where Brad Culpepper is…hanging up decorative globes. Where is he even finding these? It’s like Survivor: HGTV Edition.

The other big news at Mana is that Tai, the nicest and worst player this season, is reunited with Caleb, a player he previously tried to kiss during Survivor: Kaôh Rong. Tai’s crush is adorable and to Caleb’s credit, he’s not the type of asshat who has his sexuality threatened by such things. Tai once described Caleb as “cuddlelicious,” and acted devastated when the latter player was medically removed from the game. During Game Changers, they’re reunited, and Tai feels so good. They quickly begin to plot a new alliance. It’d be nice for Caleb to catch a break in this game, but Tai’s notoriously bad luck for his companions.

Two interesting events transpire at the otherwise ignored Tavua. After Ozzy expressed his desire to eliminate Cirie in a prior episode, we presumed that they’d spend the body of the season at each other’s throat. Due to the tribe switch, however, they now need each other, a point that both of them quickly acknowledge. Stick to your grudges, you two. Reconciliation is bad for business.

As foes become friends, Troyzan gets the vibe that he’s not part of the In Crowd. Zeke confirms this in a monologue, telling the camera that his older counterpart has no friends. While Zeke sits around and talks about how secure his situation is, Troyzan gets proactive. He goes in search of an immunity idol.

While he doesn’t earn the outcome he wants, Troyzan does unearth an immunity idol clue. If he can pick his spot during the immunity challenge, he can sneak out with an idol. We like that this has become a game within a game at the challenges, but we also wonder why players aren’t looking out for it by now. Survivor’s done this enough times that people should have learned by now. We’re obviously saying this because Troyzan does sneak away with an idol during the challenge. He finds an opportune moment at the end of the competition and grabs the idol, hiding it in his trousers. No, Troyzan isn’t happy to see you. He’s just got an idol in his pocket.

Hey, Zeke: you don’t win Survivor by sitting on your hands, talking about how other players are in trouble.

Probst sighting! The immunity challenge this week is a three-way affair (don’t make it dirty). The good news for the participants is that only one team will go to Tribal Council this week, a trend we don’t expect to last. For now, second place is NOT first loser for a change.

This week’s challenge is an obstacle course, the kind that you’d need to complete to become a Navy SEAL. Groups of three are tethered together by a rope, so one person can screw up everyone. Nuku starts with a super-team of Malcolm, JT, and Michaela, all of whom are athletic, even if JT did pick up the Freshman 15 at some point. Meanwhile, Caleb and Tai’s bromance carries over onto the battlefield, with Debbie as the all-too-appropriate third wheel.

Ozzy joins Sarah and Andrea, and what we learn from this is that while Ozzy > Malcolm, JT + Malcolm > Ozzy. While a puzzle element is technically the second half of the challenge, their lead is large enough that Nuku wins handily. A bit later, Tavua completes it as well, leaving Mana as the losing team headed to Tribal Council.

Earlier, Probst pointed out the disadvantage that Hali and Caleb faced after the tribe reset. The only two-time members of Mana are now joined by a tight group of former Nuku allies. Hali and Caleb are friends, but they have no choice but to wage war against one another. One of them obviously won’t survive the night’s vote.

Hali stresses for a couple of reasons. She worries that her tribemates won’t want to get rid of Caleb, a strong challenge performer. She also knows that Tai looooooves Caleb and will do everything in his power to keep his friend/object of affection. Debbie somehow makes the whole thing about herself, indicating that she can pull together an alliance based on Tai and Caleb’s relationship. Debbie, did you not realize you were the third wheel? They don’t need you.

Alas, Survivor’s producers don’t bother with the intrigue here. Only two players have a legitimate chance of going home. The only question is whether Mana wants Caleb’s strength or wants to get rid of a possible threat down the road. They choose the latter, dumping him in a unanimous vote. Yes, even Tai doesn’t stick up for his beloved. Poor Caleb’s been on Survivor twice, and he still hasn’t really had a chance to get untracked.