Survivor: Game Changers Recap
Dirty Deed
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
April 3, 2017

We're starting to think JT's not very good at this game.

Previously on Survivor, JT blundered the worst anyone has ever done since... JT wrote a letter during Heroes vs. Villains. He told an opponent his voting strategy in anticipation of that man, Brad Culpepper, bro-ing it down. Instead, Culpepper remained true to his current alliance, suggested that Tai hand his hidden immunity idol to Sierra, saving her. The outcome of this chaotic situation was that Malcolm – poor, innocent Malcolm – wound up eliminated. His look afterward spoke volumes. JT and Malcolm won’t be texting each other friendly emojis any time soon.

In the wake of the engrossing Tribal Council, Nuku’s remaining players are mystified. They had the numbers but failed to anticipate a Mana player’s possession of the immunity idol. JT defensively explains himself, even though nobody had asked him. We’re one minute into the episode and already playing It’s Anybody but JT.

Right on cue, JT says that he’s ready to win a million dollars. Take all the money in your pockets and bet against JT right now. Oh wait, it gets worse. Sandra thinks that JT betrayed their alliance rather than ineptly gave away secrets to the enemy. When Sandra wants someone gone, nobody ever finds the body. And we’re not speaking figuratively.

Understanding his plight, JT starts looking for a hidden immunity idol, Hey, if Tai can find one, literally anyone can. He does find a clue, which does lead to an idol. He is smart enough to smooth over the dirt that would notify others of his discovery. Even allowing for this turn of events, we still think he’s gone in two episodes or less.

Survivor’s not messing around with the pacing this season. After the first commercial break, we skip straight to the reward challenge. There, Tavua quickly recognizes that Malcolm is gone, which means that Ozzy has already emerged victorious in their alpha male battle even though he’s barely lifted a finger. The true source of their confusion is that by their recollection, Mana should have voted someone out instead of Nuku. They saw none of the machinations leading to two tribes appearing at the same Tribal Council. In fact, some of them might have realized what happened until watching the episode last week.

The reward challenge this week is worth winning. The first place finishers earn peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, and milk. The second place team still gets the sandwiches, which means that two tribes will enjoy a lot of protein. This is an important one to win heading into the all-important immunity challenge. We’ll be surprised if the winner there isn’t one of the two teams that gets to eat right now. Then again, we had no reason to believe Malcolm was in trouble last week, so…

The challenge has three elements. The first section requires a player to throw a hook attached to a rope. If the player does it right, they’ll grab a bow with a slot on top of it. A second player will retrieve a ball hidden in the sand. That ball balances in the slot of the bow as long as the player walks smoothly. Otherwise, the ball slides out and the person must go back to the start and try walking while balancing once again.

Mana quickly gets a big lead. Nuku is second followed by Tavua, who struggles. Then again, Ozzy hasn’t gone yet. Right on cue, Ozzy takes charge during the balancing section, walking through obstacles as if they were flat land. He passes Hali likes she’s standing still, and she’s actually the second best player during the challenge. He’s just that dominant. The only problem for Tavua is that there are two legs, so Ozzy’s performance only gets them halfway. His teammates once again blow the lead before quickly getting it back. Meanwhile, JT struggles with the balance beams and Debbie, God help her, isn’t very good despite the fact that she’d previously claimed that she has great balance. Once again, what Debbie says of herself doesn’t match our reality. Mana falls way behind, while Tavua’s Zeke solves the puzzle to win the sandwiches, milk, and cookies.

Nuku finishes soon afterward. As Debbie’s teammates watch in impotent frustration, she never even gets the ball to the goal. The strange part is her post-match camera monologue wherein she blames Brad Culpepper for her failures, proclaiming that he runs a dictatorship. She adds that he forced her into a role she didn’t want. At this point, a brutal camera edit shows Debbie volunteering with the comment, “I have a really good sense of balance.” Debbie’s legitimately nuts, and now she’s frustrated over her televised humiliation. It’s going to cause her to lash out at others. The only question is when.

The Tavua tribe, which probably thinks that they’re special guests at the actual Eden, happily enjoys their sandwiches. A couple of the players are still scheming, though. Sarah brags to the camera that she’s playing Troyzan, acting like his friend so that he’ll protect her while she searches for an immunity idol. Troyzan somehow forgets to mention that he knows the current location of said idol since it’s in his pocket. Troyzan’s playing a better game this season.

Cut to Debbie!

She’s storming off to the beach. Her teammates ask her to join them. Her retort is completely incoherent to the mentally sane. “Why don’t the four of you talk, make decisions, and then tell me. And then when you vote me out, why don’t you just give Hali my *incoherent*”. It sounds like “clothing sale” to us, but that can’t be right, at least not if she’s saying something that’s not a fiction of her mind. The other tribe members know that she’s upset. They’re unclear as to why, other than that she just bombed at a reward challenge, though.

“Is she acting?” – Brad Culpepper, asking the question that’s on the mind of all Survivor viewers
Sierra has a waterfront conversation with Debbie. The latter woman rants about Brad Culpepper, who is “used to being in charge.” She projects so much in this conversation that we can’t help but laugh. The moment that punctuates everything, however, isn’t something that Debbie says. Instead, after she’s finished with what she considers total character assassination of the tribe’s alpha male, Hali queries, “Who, Brad?” There are only five members of Mana and only two men yet Debbie’s rant is so nonsensical that a smart woman standing beside her isn’t entirely sure whether she’s talking about Brad or Tai.

Here, have some of the crazy juice that Debbie’s chugging.

“If Hali wants to do the balance beam even though she cost us peanut butter and jelly by DICKING AROUND FOR 10 FRICKIN MINUTES and I zipped across the balance beam in 30 seconds, that means you don’t respect me. It’s frickin’ nauseating, frustrating, AND I’M PISSED!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The whole thing is like a Sean Spicer press conference.

Tai and Brad come down to the water to talk to her. While the audio doesn’t pick it up, she clearly shouts, “Not Brad!” when he tries to speak with her. She then acts buddy/buddy with Tai, venting to him about Brad’s many failures. Tai listens politely, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. Then, he calmly but sincerely relays to the camera, “I think Debbie’s just different. She’s like a crazy lady.”

Toward the end of her beach meltdown, she pulls a Terrell Owens and starts randomly doing push-ups. She also tells the camera that she has an eight-pack, pulling up her shirt to punctuate her point. Everyone handles failure differently, but Debbie’s inability to acknowledge her equilibrium issues is truly strange, even by Survivor standards.

The episode ends with Brad offering a simple apology. While we can’t imagine it is, he does a remarkable job of seeming sincere. Brad’s actually great at managing people. All he gets for his efforts on this occasion are the following words: “And the funniest thing to me. I had your back, man. I was loyal to you completely, I mean utterly. AND YOU CRUSHED MY HEART!!!” Then, she laughs maniacally. This is the problem we have with reality television. She needs a psych evaluation right now. Instead, she gets plenty of camera time for her nonsensical behavior.

Hey, other players are still involved in this season of Survivor! For example, JT is still shaking his head over his latest blunder. He’s a lonely man since he’d only bonded with Malcolm. And Malcolm is no longer there due to JT. With nothing else to do, JT somehow winds up mixing drinks for the other players. Michaela wants “seven drips of coffee and a spoonful of sugar.”

Sandra, the most vindictive person not currently in the White House, hatches a plan. Now that she knows that JT hates wasted sugar, she empties the sugar jar, knowing that he’ll immediately blame Michaela. Yes, Sandra has just framed Michaela for sugar theft, a new Survivor crime, and investigator JT wants a confession from an innocent woman. He also condescendingly calls her Honey Bun, which isn’t going to win him any friends on the internet.

Tai, Survivor genius, has picked up on some tension in his tribe. Rather than sit around camp and watch Debbie think up new ways to flay her “allies,” he goes in search of another hidden immunity idol. In a shocking surprise, he finds a clue almost immediately. Look, if Survivor isn’t fixed – and let’s be very clear that our stated opinion is that it’s totally fixed – the show’s crew would be the worst Hide and Go Seek players in the history of the universe. Survivor contestants find clues more easily than they find Debbie intolerable.

At the immunity challenge, Debbie has another tantrum. Did we mention that she explodes PRIOR to the challenge? Yes, the producers *ahem* coincidentally have added another balance beam component to the competition. Guess what Debbie wants to do! Brad politely asks Tai to do it instead. Debbie literally turns her back on her allies after proclaiming that she’s doing it and that the matter is settled. Not wanting to be smothered in their sleep, her tribemates concede. Team chemistry at Mana is worse than what the Decepticons face every day between Megatron and Starscream.

The immunity challenge includes four phases. The first one is a simple obstacle wall climb, and it starts with – we’re not making this up – Debbie hitting the ground a split second before Sierra. She shouts, “YEAH! First one down!” The fact that Sierra waited for her to go to avoid bumping into one another is lost on her. Instead, she – again, not a joke – tries to chest bump Brad Culpepper as he lands on the ground. In animal kingdom terms, she’s brazenly challenging him to become the alpha. Actually, that might be a werewolf thing instead.

During the second leg…oh, who cares? The real story is that in the MIDDLE of the challenge, Debbie lays into Culpepper again, pointing out that she’d finished first…during one insignificant part of the challenge. We adore his simple retort. “I love you. I don’t know why you’re mad at me.” That’s the type of patience one learns from spending most of one’s life in a football huddle. For her part, Debbie acts exasperated that he refuses to feud with her. Debbie’s having a historically bad episode.

Mana struggles during one part of the challenge. Yes, it’s the balance beam portion. No, Debbie isn’t the one. Basically everyone else other than she and Culpepper struggles a bit, presumably due to emotional fatigue. Debbie works herself up into a further lather, screeching, “I’m glad we didn’t send the gymnast. I mean, really. I seriously am. I am so sick of having to defend myself.” Sierra and Brad seem to have developed the ability to tune her out completely, a trait we wish that we possessed.

While this drama plays out, Tavua wins the immunity challenge. Sierra and Brad calmly crush the final part of the immunity challenge. The tribe celebrates as they win immunity. Once they return to camp, they’ll grimly realize that they don’t have the ability to vote Debbie out tonight. That’s a net loss.

Since only one tribe is going to Tribal Council tonight (Boo!), Tavua and Nuku battle for second place. The competition comes down to JT versus Ozzy and, well, you know. JT has a shot to win but isn’t clutch enough to hit it. Ozzy then drills his shot, giving Tavua immunity yet again.

It’s time to play It’s Anybody but JT, only JT has an immunity idol. Well, it can’t be Sandra, and Michaela and Jeff are in Sandra’s alliance. We wonder how he’ll screw this up.

But not for long.

Back at camp, discussion turns to who will get voted out of the competition. Aubry and JT think that Michaela has to go, which likely rules out Michaela. Also, JT’s still on about the sugar-stealing. We’re reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer believes that sugar is power.

Jeff Varner aptly summarizes his choices for the evening’s vote. He can eliminate someone with an attitude problem or get rid of a “big threat.” Smart players always pick the latter, although Sandra’s still there, which means Jeff and our definitions of “big threat” are quite different.

At Tribal Council, Sandra hones in on the real problem. She knows that JT gave away crucial information to the enemy at the prior vote. She believes it was sabotage. He confesses honestly. It was incompetence rather than malice. She seems to accept this answer, but JT has other problems. Michaela and him exchange cross words, with Sandra making an odd comment that implies she’s siding with JT. He starts to criticize Michaela for acting like a baby around camp. JT, Sandra is sharpening the knife that she’s about to put in his back.

JT misses the obvious here. He dings Michaela as not being a Game Changer. He’s overconfident about his position in this game, and that translates into him not playing his idol. He even admits that he doesn’t even bring it to Tribal Council. How does Sandra keep snowing people like this? These other players watch Survivor, right?

Probst asks if anyone wants to play their immunity idol. JT proffers a smug smile. After the moment passes and Probst moves along to the vote, Michaela puts out a mug and water bottle. She proceeds to pour herself a beverage. She sips contentedly as the votes are revealed. That’s strange since only five people are voting, and the score is tied at 2-2. Michaela has complete confidence in her alliance, by which we mean that she has complete confidence that Sandra has locked down the vote. Sure enough, the deciding vote (Jeff Varner’s) goes to JT, eliminating him from competition.

Summarizing: Over the past two Tribal Councils, JT gave away his tribe’s plan to an opponent, caused the elimination of his ally AND best friend at camp, chose not to bring a hidden immunity idol to Tribal Council, and then berated an opponent who had the votes needed to eliminate him from the game. What do we take from all this? Stephen Fishbach was a really, really good Survivor player to carry this guy to the final vote, even if JT ultimately won and Stephen lost. JT’s bad at the game of Survivor.