Survivor: Game Changers Recap
Vote Early, Vote Often
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
April 6, 2017

We are experiencing the Infinite Sadness.

Previously on Survivor, we had plenty enough of J.T. We weren’t the only ones. His opponents on other tribes had used him as their puppet, causing his “allies” to consider him equal parts turncoat and secret-revealer. Either he turned on Nuku or he gave away their plan to another tribe, enabling the execution of the infinitely more preferable/popular Malcolm.

Also, Debbie failed completely at balance beams. Then, she claimed that someone else failed at balance beams instead. Finally, she did what everyone does on Survivor in that situation. She blamed Brad Culpepper, a man who to this very moment has no idea what the Hell he’d done. The answer was that he’d been standing near Debbie when she failed completely. So, it was his fault.

Survivor’s been weird this year. Also, the producers won’t stop meddling. We strongly expect that to continue in this episode.

Tonight begins with Aubry lamenting the recent turn of events, just as JT had the prior episode. Whereas he’d done wrong and was right to feel bad, Aubry’s only mistake was in believing everyone when they said that they’d keep the stronger player. She now appreciates that she has no allies in her own tribe, which is plenty bad enough. Her situation is magnified by the presence of Sandra, the Cloverfield Monster of Survivor. When Sandra wants someone gone, they vanish in a swath of hellfire.

Aubry knows that she’s too small to earn the notice of Sandra thus far. Since she’s a woman without a country at the moment, her execution will be a matter of convenience rather than need. Still, Aubry is living on borrowed time, barring something unforeseen.

Hey look, it’s something unforeseen!

Survivor’s meddling producers are doing another tribe switch. After two weeks in rugged conditions, some of these folks might not even know which tribe they’re on at this point. Here’s how things change this time:

Nuku: Sandra, Sarah, Andrea, Ozzy, Zeke, Tai, and Jeff
Mana: Troyzan, Michaela, Sierra, Hali, Aubry, Cirie, and Brad Culpepper
Tavua: No longer exists
Debbie: Doesn’t get assigned to a tribe, which is a relief to anyone who knows her

Several things stand out about this turn of events. Aubry is orgasmic since she knew her fate was sealed under the prior regime. Sandra is apathetic, figuring she can hustle these suckers just as easily as she’s hustled the last two groups. She does understand that she has fewer allies at the moment, though. Tai is giddy since he just found an idol early that morning. Even if he winds up on the outs in his new tribe, he’s still safe for a while.

Debbie is ostracized, which may be the work of Survivor’s legal team after last week’s incident. She shouldn’t be trusted around strangers, especially not when knives and fires are readily available. Probst reveals that she’s heading to Exile Island. It really is Survivor’s Greatest Hits right now. We can’t wait for Eye of the Tiger. Anyway, Probst reveals that Debbie will join the losing tribe at Tribal Council tonight. She’s immune in that vote, which means we’re stuck with her for three more days. It’s like finding out there’s another Transformers movie coming out. We just can’t escape fate with Debbie. She’s a Survivor cockroach.

This tribe shakeup is a bit different in that several of the people simply do not know one another. Brad Culpepper points out that while he still has Sierra (and they’re both gleefully away from Debbie now), he wasn’t friends with Hali…which was totally his fault. He also has never met Aubry or Michaela before and never spoke to Cirie before. Culpepper is optimistic about a potential bromance with Troyzan, who played with his wife on a prior season. What he’s realized that worries him the most is that there are only two men on his tribe. He could have had another one…if he hadn’t sided with Sierra against JT. Karma’s pretty swift this season on Survivor, Debbie excluded.

The mood at Nuku is erratic. The former members of Tavua are delighted that they’re in the power position. Jeff Varner and Sandra are less enthusiastic. They’re badly outnumbered and know it. What Varner should realize is that he’s got time to maneuver. If they target anybody, it’s going to be Sandra. It should be Sandra. How in the blue Hell is Sandra still there after two weeks?

In a shocking twist, everyone on Nuku targets Sandra. We’re not even being sarcastic here. Nobody’s ever done this, and she’s played for two and a half seasons.

Hey, did we mention Tai found an idol? We’re not talking about the one from a couple of episodes ago. We’re not even talking about the one from ten minutes ago in this episode. Tai gets the bright idea that the Survivor employees who hide idols are terrible. Maybe they’d be lazy enough to hide an idol in the same spot at both camps. AND THEY WERE! Tai now has two idols. We may have to start taking him seriously as a player. We won’t, of course, but we theoretically should.

Life really isn’t fair. When Debbie reaches Exile Island, she discovers the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s a “gorgeous yacht” with a fully stocked kitchen. It has “meat, salads, snacks, soft drinks, alcohol, wine and dessert”. There’s even a hammock. Debbie eats and naps comfortably before…Johnny Cochran shows up? We’d think Debbie was in a delusional state and imagining the arrival of people she knows, but…

We see him, too.

As a reminder, Cochran’s one of the scrubs who somehow won a prior season of Survivor thanks to producer interference. They loved the story of him evolving from a useless nerd to a viable player, so they put their thumb on the scale to improve his odds of winning, same as they did with Coach and Tyson among others. Cochran’s purpose is to act as a sounding board and offer advice on the game. We guess nobody good at Survivor was available instead.

Cochran is pretty funny about his encounter with Debbie. He’s always had a nebbish charm, and that plays well in his evaluations of a truly insane woman. He points out that he can’t offer advice to someone who claims to be an expert at everything (like the balance beam!). Then, he asks if she’s worried about anyone and she says no. In his camera monologue, he remarks that overconfidence is a fatal flaw in this game. As usual, Cochran misses the obvious. She’s not overconfident. She’s woefully insecure.

Of course, a former Survivor player (we refuse to call him a former winner since that season was more rigged than Quiz Show) wouldn’t arrive without some help. The purpose of his presence is additional producer meddling. Sure enough, he has a game advantage to offer. Debbie can A) build a fake immunity idol using included tools B) vote twice at Tribal Council or C) give her entire tribe an advantage in an immunity challenge. Since Debbie’s a selfish person, C is out. And A doesn’t help much. So, B is the clear cut choice here, and she does choose it.

Debbie’s now much better positioned in the game, although we’re certain she’ll blow it. That’s three times already in this episode where someone’s performance in the game was impacted by outside interference. And we’re only halfway through the episode. When Survivor’s producers named this season Game Changers, we should have realized that they were talking about themselves.

Speaking of potential bromances, Zeke and Jeff are hanging out on the beach. Zeke is a Survivor superfan whose love of the game hasn’t translated into great play. He’s trying to change that, which is why he’s already talked to his new tribemates about ways to strengthen his alliance while cutting out stronger players.

Tai is the current source of Zeke’s concern. He believes that Tai is capable of finding another idol. You’re underselling him, Zeke. He’s already found two! Varner happily agrees to align with Zeke and naively presumes that Sandra and he are no longer on the bottom. Jeff, buddy, don’t get too attached to Sandra. Tying your fate to hers is the quickest way to assure you’re going home soon. Barring yet another tribe shuffle, unlikely at this point in the game, Sandra’s only got about two votes left, give or take a vote.

Probst sighting!

Today’s immunity challenge comes with real stakes. Forget that the losing team has to vote somebody out tonight. They also get Debbie on their team. Failure isn’t an option in this one. In fact, we doubt Brad Culpepper in the NFC Championship Game he played in.

Tonight’s challenge starts in the water. Every player has to swim to a platform. At that point, they must cross monkey bars and then swim to the next platform. Here, players must lift puzzle pieces out of the water to hand to teammates. The final stretch when they reach land requires the contestants to pull a sled full of puzzle pieces up a steep hill. This is a grueling on its own, but it’s downright brutal for exhausted folks who have already done a LOT of work in the water.

Mana only has two men, but both of them are athletic, while the women are in great shape. Meanwhile, Nuku has Ozzy but they also claim Zeke, Tai, and Varner plus Sandra, all of whom are subpar challenge performers. Mana gets their puzzle pieces to the finish line a couple of minutes faster. Then, they absolutely destroy the puzzle portion of the challenge, working together flawlessly. Probst describes it as, “One of the fastest finishes of a puzzle in Survivor history.” He’s right, and Nuku is heading to Tribal Council.

For only the second time in the history of the show, it’s time to play It’s Anybody but Sandra. During Heroes vs. Villains, she seduced Parvati into turning on Evil Loser Russell. We don’t expect her to be as successful this time.
For all of our joking about Sandra being the first person voted out, we understand why players waited until later in the game. There was basically no chance that anybody was going to let her stick around until the end as happened with Heroes vs. Villains (and her first winning season, too). Everyone’s been waiting for a moment like this when they have clear cut numbers and an obvious choice for elimination.

Alas, Sandra’s mojo is so strong that she almost pulls off a miracle. She gets help from an unexpected source. The plan everyone that knows except for Varner and Sandra is to vote out Sandra. To avoid any last minute conflicts, the members of Nuku 3: The Last Crusade promise the two members who aren’t in their alliance that they’re voting out Tai. Humorously, the reason they give is their fear that he’ll find an idol. If only they know…

The problem with the strategy is that Tai is paranoid and genuinely awful at Survivor. He sees people talking in a big group. Then, they scatter when he arrives. It’s a coincidence, but Tai worries that his name is on the chopping block. He pins down Ozzy and Varner to have a discussion. Tai spells out the plan again, saying that it has to be Sandra since she’s so dangerous.

Ozzy’s face is priceless as Varner processes this new information. He now knows that everyone has lied to him. To say that Ozzy is livid is underselling it. In his monologue, he repeatedly describes Tai’s behavior as stupid and pointless. Meanwhile, Varner’s body language indicates that he knows he’s on the losing end once again.
During the chaos, Sandra pulls together her Nuku teammates. She calmly tells them why she’s valuable to them. Using a soothing, almost maternal voice, Sandra points out all the ways that she can helps her tribemates. Ozzy humorously says afterward that even as he knew every word she said was manipulative, he still found himself nodding his head repeatedly. Sandra’s just that good at telling people what they want to hear.

Despite all her attempts, the choice is still clear when Tribal Council begins. Then, Tai starts talking again. Tai is 100% certain that something is up. If a surprise is in the offing, he doesn’t want his name to be the one written down. So, he tells others that there’s an obvious choice. Oddly, Tai doesn’t like the reception to his speech and panics.

For no particular reason, The Man with Two Idols changes his mind. He tries to convince everyone of a new target: Ozzy. Varner is 100% down for this, but he tells Tai that they need another person. Realizing that his whisper campaign isn’t good enough, Tai speaks to the entire tribe (including Debbie, who has returned from Exile Island). He begs them to vote out the purest physical threat since he believes that the tribe is only one or two votes away from the merger.

By this point, Ozzy wants to kill Tai, and we’re not speaking metaphorically. Zeke has the best response. He responds to Tai by asking a simple question. Who does Tai trust? Before the other man can answer, Zeke rattles off a list of names of people he’s said he doesn’t trust. It’s basically everyone who has ever played Survivor. This has the odd impact of calming down Tai. Forced to face his paranoia, he falls in line.

Even with Tai under control, the vote is a nervous one for Ozzy. He worries that Tai’s erratic behavior has blown up an easy vote. For her part, Sandra knows that it’s her. And she’s right. Varner and Sandra vote against Tai, while everyone else targets the best player in the history of the game. The strangest part is that Tai doesn’t play his idol, which he absolutely should have done given that he stated he didn’t trust any of his allies and feared for his safety. Debbie and Tai are having a crazy-off this season, and that’s going to make Nuku exciting for the next few days. That’s burying the lede, though.

With the votes revealed, her opponents vote Sandra out of Survivor for the first time ever. She went 94 days without that happening, an absolutely astounding feat that will never be matched. She’s flirty and funny with Probst at the end, ominously threatening him, “Don’t do it, Jeff. Don’t do it. Don’t do it, Jeff.” He pauses long enough that we wonder if Sandra’s powers are so great that she can stop time, but then her torch is extinguished for the first time.

Fittingly, the other Survivors clap loudly as she prepares to leave the set. Everything there now appreciates what we’ve said for many years now. Sandra’s game is eloquent in its simplicity. She gets in people’s heads, and they don’t even realize it. She tells them what they want to hear, causing them to do her bidding. She’s the best player ever, and she was also the best player this season despite everyone knowing in advance that she’s the Boogeywoman. Her final words ring true.

“There will never be another two-time winner except The Queen.”