Survivor: Game Changers Recap
What Happens on Exile, Stays on Exile
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
April 13, 2017

The most uncomfortable moment in Survivor history.

Previously on Survivor, we said farewell to the Queen. After winning two seasons and making it much, much farther in Game Changers than she should have, Sandra Diaz-Twine was finally voted out of the game. She's still the best ever, as far as we're concerned. If these players had been smart, she would have been the first person voted out.

Still, with Sandra gone, a couple of players look to be in some trouble. Jeff Varner and Michaela were both kind of riding in Sandra's wake, and without the Queen's savvy ability to form alliances out of thin air, their weaknesses will be exposed.

Also, Debbie had been sent to Exile Island, which means that she took Sandra's place on the Nuku tribe. When they return from Tribal Council, she mentions that the vote was scarier than Exile Island itself was (no kidding - it was like she was in a luxury hotel).

Of course, when the group asks Debbie about her real Exile experience, she lies to them. “What happens on Exile stays on Exile,” she says, and OH MY GOD do we ever just want to fast forward through her segments and monologues. She has no intention of telling anyone about Cochran's visit and we guess she views him as some sort of spirit animal now.

Tai, who we've mentioned is just a godawful Survivor player, ruminates about Ozzy's awesomeness. No, he's not going to kiss him like he did Caleb. Instead, he's gunning for Ozzy as he's winning challenges and it feels like the super athlete needs to be eliminated prior to the merge.

Varner is pissed off at having been blindsided, though he really should have seen the Sandra ouster coming if he had any sort of awareness. Zeke apologizes to Varner for not making him aware that Sandra was the consensus choice, and Varner tries to play like he's a good sport, but he snippily tells Zeke that he would have voted for Sandra, too.

The two of them share a little bonding time, and Zeke tells Varner how much he likes him. Oh, we just can't with this. It's a train wreck coming and we can't ignore it. Varner might as well be asking Zeke if he has any deep, personal secrets that he'd like to reveal.

Probst sighting!

The members of the Mana tribe aren't necessarily surprised to see that Sandra was voted out at Tribal Council, but they are impressed. Today's Reward Challenge has the two tribes playing for pizza, which makes us hungry for some ourselves. (One of us is doing an eating plan, and pizza isn't really included.)

The challenge begins with team members unspooling a rope until it drops a key. Naturally, Team Ozzy dominates because he is Ozzy and the people on the other team are not. Next, team members untie some ladder planks. Finally, one team member will climb up and over the ladder they've created and get some balls. Then, they go through some obstacles that will get them to the final portion of the challenge. The editing pretends like it's close, but Ozzy is the domination. Nuku will be enjoying pizza and soft drinks.

Back at Mana, the unhappy challenge losers are mumbling about pizza. “It'll make them sluggish.” That's one way of rationalizing it.

“When you get to a certain point on Survivor, your mind goes to places you don't think it's gonna go,” Aubrey says prophetically. She then starts crying, which is contagious, as pretty much everyone breaks down a little bit. Aubrey explains that it's difficult to describe to people back home how it feels out in these remote locales with limited resources. It does something to you.

We've often said that, but we know already tonight's episode may be the ultimate example.

Losing pizza is a bummer, man.

Brad echoes Aubry's comments, saying that his wife, Monica, came home different. She was troubled and hurt. He says he understands what she went through now.

Aubry thanks Brad for sharing and says in confessional that he is the most genuine person she's met in the game so far. She finally feels that she has someone she can confide in and work with.

Then, Cirie approaches Brad and echoes those same sentiments. Brad is a little surprised to realize that being genuine actually got him this sort of positive reaction, but hey, if the light bulb goes off, the light bulb goes off. Culpepper figures that he now has an alliance of five within his tribe - himself, Aubry, Cirie, Troyzan and Sierra. That puts Hali and Michaela on the outs.

We go from the Infinite Sadness of Mana to the Pizza Happiness of Nuku. Varner is happy to have finally won a challenge, but aggravated because he is obviously low man on the totem pole. He figures he's got to find a way to shift the conversation to a different potential evictee. He figures Ozzy's got to go.

He chats with Sarah, arguing that the tribe will need him at the merge. She nods vigorously and asks him who he's targeting. Varner says that Ozzy is such a dominant force (see: The Reward Challenge a few paragraphs ago) that they can't afford to keep him around for the merge. She says something about proving she's a Game Changer blah blah blah, but she's such a nondescript player. We never remember her name.

Probst Sighting: The Next Generation!

The Immunity Challenge involves water and solving a sort of puzzle. The first four team members for each tribe will dive into the water to swim to a raft. Once there, they have to pull themselves across the water and then dive in and release a bag of buoys.

Obviously, Ozzy is awesome at diving, pulling the raft, and getting buoys for his team. Nuku accumulates a pretty strong lead and has two sets out of three sets of buoys before Culpepper finishes one. Aubry gets them back in it a bit, but Nuku is now figuring out the word puzzle.

Despite Nuku's pretty massive lead, Hali figures the puzzle out for Mana and they win Immunity. If only Ozzy had been working on the puzzle, maybe Nuku could have won.

“I'll be doing everything I can to guarantee I'm not the one going home,” says Jeff Varner, and we cringe. Eesh. This episode feels like a horror movie.

By the way, the Immunity Challenge ends at the 33-minute mark. If the news hadn't highly publicized tonight's traumatic Tribal Council event, we'd be wondering what's up. As it is…

It's time to play It's Anybody But Jeff Varner. We'll go ahead and spoil this one. It's totally Jeff Varner. He's the one in danger, and he spends the rest of the episode making the decision to pour gasoline on himself before jumping into an open flame. Survivor gets uncomfortable from time to time, but what happens next tonight is unprecedented. It's actually a social issue, and the only thing we can recall that would be equivalent was when Colton on Survivor: One World appeared to have racial motivations to vote out Bill. It's that kind of moment, only it feels worse since it's so calculated.

We'll just go ahead and get right to the Moment. There's really no reason to talk about what leads up to it. Jeff Varner knows that he's on the bottom of this tribe and that he is the likely vote tonight. So, to deflect, he starts hinting around that there are people on the tribe who might not be trustworthy. Initially he doesn't really say why, but then he brings up Zeke. Zeke hasn't shared the fact that he's transgender with the group, which in Jeff Varner's mind somehow equates to Zeke being a liar.

In fact, Zeke has told no cast members on Survivor that he is transgender. In fact, it's something that he has shared with friends and family members, along with the casting team and producers of Survivor, who have agreed to keep his secret and also understood Zeke's desire not to be defined on the show by the fact that he is transgender. We should note that Zeke didn't tell Varner his secret. Varner just figured it out.

The reactions from the people present in the Tribal Council area are swift and harsh, other than Zeke, who handles the whole thing amazingly well. Ozzy looks at Varner with disdain, clearly unable to process the fact that Varner would make such an impossibly bad move.

Andrea breaks down in tears, saying that she can't believe that Varner would have done that to Zeke. Tai is similarly in utter disbelief and has a few waterworks of his own. Debbie is Debbie, appalled by what happened but gleeful that she's surviving another day. After another moment, Sarah also cries, making the point that she is so happy she's gotten to know Zeke and considers him a friend.

Initially, Varner defends himself, but at some point reality sets in. He realizes that what he has done is utterly despicable and soon he too is bawling. We're not really sure what he hoped to accomplish with this tactic, but since the show made a point of foreshadowing the mental challenges the players face as the game goes deeper, we're going to chalk it up to that.

Probst reveals his own feelings when he asks the tribe if there is even a need to vote. The universal consensus is no. Varner is out and there is no further discussion. Zeke hugs Jeff before he takes his leave of the tribe.

In his confessional, Varner breaks down again and sobs. Here is the statement he made today:

“Yep, I did that. And I offer my deepest, most heart-felt apologies to Zeke Smith, his friends and life allies, his family and to all those my mistake hurt and offended. I recklessly revealed something I mistakenly believed everyone already knew. I was wrong and make no excuses for it. I own responsibility for what is the worst decision in my life.

“Let me be clear, outing someone is assault. It robs a strong, courageous person of their power and protection and opens them up to discrimination and danger. It can leave scars that haunt for a lifetime. I am profoundly sorry. Zeke is a wonderful man and I will forever be amazed and inspired by his forgiveness and compassion. I thank God for that and the gift of being an example as to why you should never do what I did.

“We cisgender Americans live with an enormous amount of privilege and should spend time pondering how we can use that for greater good. When we disrespect or discriminate, or turn blind eyes to it, we wound all of us. I am deeply saddened at what my mistake unleashed and I promise to use its lessons to do the right thing.”

For his part, Zeke offered this link to GLAAD's tips for allies of transgender people. It's worth your time to read it.

Additionally, he shares his thoughts in this article he wrote for Hollywood Reporter.