Survivor: Game Changers
Episode 11: Reinventing How This Game is Played
By Jim Van Nest - BOP Game Changer
May 9, 2017

Keep smiling, Zeke.

Hello, good people, and thank you for joining me one last time for Survivor: Game Changers! That's right. My three-week/four-episode stint recapping this season comes to an end tonight but have no fear, David and Kim will be back next week to try to right all of my wrongs of the last four recaps.

But, while I have the forum, I'm going to try to contaminate your brains into thinking like me this one last time. Let's see, where are we? Oh yeah - with the best vote of the season thus far, Officer Sarah flipped on her alliance and helped Aubry dump wackadoodle Debbie. This would seem to tip the balance of power over to the Cirie-Andrea-Aubry faction. But I'm not so sure that Sarah's flip to this side is going to last. We have a couple factors to consider. First is the Tony Vlachos factor. Sarah watched Tony win his season by flipping on alliances by night and apologizing for it by day. She may think she has the chops to pull this kind of game off. And considering she's flipped two consecutive weeks and is still the fulcrum tonight - maybe she does.

I mean, how hard would it be to come back to camp and pull Brad and Sheriff Dawn Thomas aside and tell them, "Look, Debbie was out there telling lies about me and I took the opportunity to get rid of her. This was very personal and now that she's gone, I'm ready to finish this thing with you guys. By the way, here's the vote stealer I'm going to use to guarantee our side comes out ahead at this potential 5-5 vote." The second factor we have is that Sarah jumped to a broken alliance. The "Andrea and Zeke Situation" is a time bomb waiting to explode. They managed to come together for one vote last week, but to think they'll be able to do it again is giving them way too much credit. Sarah could use her time in their alliance to come back to the other side and tell them, "Look, I know you're mad about Debbie, but while I was with them, I gathered this intel. Andrea and Zeke hate each other and we can exploit that. Let's take them all out and take this to the end. By the way, here's my vote stealer...yadda, yadda, yadda."

Either one of these things could happen, especially on a season where so many of these people are trying to prove they deserve to be called Game Changers. I think Sarah is a pretty smart player and could make this scenario work for her if she wants to. She could also just try to play it safe and take out either Brad or Sheriff Dawn tonight. Either way, with only three episodes left before the season finale, shit is about to get crazy as we whittle down from ten people to three. So, grab some popcorn, buckle up, and let's get to tonight's episode.

We begin back at camp after the stunning blindside of Debbie. As everyone gathers around the fire, Sarah breaks the silence asking if anyone wants to know who flipped. She takes ownership of the move and invites anyone who wants an explanation to come talk to her about it. They ask why the group decided on Debbie, and Zeke tells them it was because Debbie was in charge. Zeke, Cirie, Andrea and Michaela all discuss how they're happy to be going forward with this group. Cirie, however, tells us that at this point in the game, it sounds good that everyone is locked in, but you have to always be paying attention and be ready to adapt to anything that may happen. People are sleeping on Cirie and that's just crazy. She's the best player in the game - has been since Sandra got voted out and no one is even thinking about coming for her. In about ten days, they're all going to be sitting on the jury trying to figure out how in the hell they let Cirie Fields, of all people, land in the final tribal.

We come back from break on Day 27 and we start the day with a Probst Sighting! Today's challenge is a repeat of a challenge from last season. They will be broken into two teams of five. On Jeff's go, one person will race over an obstacle course to a chair. The rest of the team will pull that person into the air to collect ten bags each containing a letter tile. They will do this three times, and once they have all 30 tiles, they will use all the letters to solve a word puzzle that reads "Reinventing How This Game Is Played." The winning team will be taken to a resort to get lots of food, cleaned up AND they will spend the night in an actual bed. Of everything on the list - the bed is what seems to get everyone excited.

Ultimately, the first part of the challenge doesn't matter. One team is ahead, then the other. After about an hour on the puzzle, no one has made any ground on solving it. At this point, Jeff keeps talking and is doing everything he can to give them hints to the puzzle. Out of nowhere, Andrea comes up with "Reinventing.” Once they create that word, it's only a matter of minutes before her team wins reward. Andrea, Zeke, Aubry, Brad and Sarah will have this amazing reward at the luxury spa. Everyone else - got nothing for ya. As we head to break, Brad can't believe his luck in winning this reward and going with the exact people he needs to make inroads with. #Win-Win

As we rejoin the program, we see the winners' chopper heading to the resort for the reward. Sarah is stoked for the reward. She's never been on a helicopter before and she has a window seat and everything. They land and are greeted with drinks and food. There is much rejoicing. As they eat, Brad and Zeke start to talk football. As we remember from last season, Zeke is a HUGE football nut and Brad is an NFL player. So, it's an easy thing for them to bond over. Of course, this is yet another reason for Andrea to decide he has to go. Isn't it interesting that when someone is on your radar, a good game move will be seen as a terrible game move? Yeah, that's what's happening here.

To his credit, the Brad Culpepper transformation is almost complete. Aubry asks Zeke, "Did you ever think you'd be sitting here with Brad Culpepper?" Without a second's hesitation, Brad shoots out, "Dreams do come true." It's something small, but it's very indicative of the turnaround Brad has had on this season. If anyone has come into this game with a new view or strategy and is playing it out, it's Brad Culpepper. He learned from his mistakes and has vastly improved his performance. Good on ya, Brad!

The next morning dawns on those back at camp and morale is super low. Sierra is devastated that they didn't get to eat and she's still worrying about what to do now that the numbers are against her. Troy and Tai have a weird discussion where they agree to have each other's back and then they talk about whether or not there might be an idol hidden out there. Of course, between the two of them, they have three idols. It's interesting to watch them both dance around the conversation.

About this time, everyone from the reward comes back to camp. Aubry tells us that she's concerned about the Brad/Zeke bonding time on the reward. Andrea and Cirie discuss the possibility of voting out Zeke as well. Cirie tells us that she's concerned that Zeke is the smartest person out there and that makes him dangerous. She also tells us that Officer Sarah will be a huge piece of this and she seems to have a tight bond with Zeke. So she'll have to deal with Officer Sarah very carefully or they could have a backlash on their hands. And on cue, we see Cirie and Sarah get a minute alone. Cirie asks her what she would think about moving on Zeke. Sarah is definitely not receptive to it. She tells Cirie that she has a plan for Zeke. She then tells us that Zeke is her closest ally and she doesn't want to vote him out, so she needs to get Cirie to target someone else while still staying together. She decides to tell Cirie about the vote stealer as a way to lock her in and possibly save Zeke.

Cirie sees the point Sarah is making and realizes that it is a solid plan. I'm not 100% sure she's on board with it, but to her credit, she tells Sarah that she is. By the time they're done talking, Cirie has confirmed that they're back to the original plan of voting out Sierra. Sarah tells us that she has placed herself right in the middle again and she could just as easily flip back to Brad, Sierra, Troy and Tai. She's going to wait to see how everything unfolds and then make her decision. She is really playing the ultimate risk/reward game right now...again, shades of Tony. Being in the middle, while kinda cool in that you can choose your side, is SO dangerous because eventually, the rest of the people are going to force you to pick a side or go home. Tread lightly, Officer Sarah.

Day 29 dawns and Zeke tells us that camp is eerily calm and that scares him. He and Sarah head to the watering hole to fill canteens. Sarah lays it out: first Sierra, then Andrea and then Tai. They want to bring in Troy and Brad. Zeke wants a final five deal with Sarah, Michaela, Brad and Troy. Sarah is on board for this, so Zeke sets out to bring in the guys. He tells them that he and Sarah want to work with them. He can't loop them in on this coming vote, but he swears they are safe and the new five can emerge after this Tribal. Brad likes the sound of this. He knows he's on the bottom and is happy to hear there's a door open to him. He says that it would really bother him to have to vote for Tai or Sierra, "...but make no mistake. I am here to win... the... game." There it is everyone - that's the Brad winner clip. If he holds on to win - that's the clip they'll play at the reunion. Mark it down. Oh, and with that...

It's time for a Probst Sighting! Today's challenge is a speed/agility challenge. They will have to stack dominoes (big dominoes) on a beam. As they move along the beam, they have to walk through a trip obstacle. If they bump the obstacle, the blocks will fall and they'll have to start over. It's a simple challenge...stack the dominoes so that when you knock the first one, they all fall down and the final domino hits a gong on the ground. While this is kind of a fun challenge to watch, it's boring as hell to recap. Brad bumps the rig and knocks everything down knocking him out of the challenge. Michaela is heading for her last domino when Andrea decides to give it a go... they tumble, they fall, and the last one hits the gong. Andrea wins individual immunity! We head to break, and Sierra knows she's at the bottom of the numbers and is terrified. Her hope is to make a move big enough to keep here there one more day.

With that in mind, I guess we'll start the game of "It's Anyone But Sierra" - but I'm not feeling that strongly that she's really the one who will go home here. We start with Andrea, who is now ten feet tall and bulletproof with that necklace. She wants to make a bigger move now. It's time to go after Zeke. And you know what? For her, this is probably the right move. But for Sarah, Michaela and Cirie, it doesn't make much sense. But she heads off to get Cirie anyway. Cirie is worried about Officer Sarah and not being able to get her on board with this plan. She agrees to try, but doesn't hold out a lot of hope.

Cirie has another idea in mind that involves Sierra and whoa, look at that. As if summoned, Sierra walks up to plead a case right at the same time Andrea and Cirie want to include her. She tells them she'll vote for whoever they want her to. She'll mark her vote with a star, or whatever it takes to stick around through this vote. As Sierra walks away, Sarah walks up. As she approaches, Cirie basically tells Andrea to let her handle it. Which is probably best. Of course, Andrea can't let that happen, so she goes right at Sarah with the plan to vote Zeke. Sarah tells us that she is definitely not down for it; she needs Zeke for a couple more votes. However, showing her evolution as a player, she tells us that she also knows she can't go scrambling around trying to save him. She has to play this cool and calm or she'll move the target off of Zeke onto herself. Sarah tells them she's good to go with that plan, but she's worried about what happens next, as she should be.

Andrea takes her plea to Aubry and Michaela next. Aubry is down to make a move on Zeke. She thinks he's smart and calculating, and he's definitely the kind of person you need to get before he gets you. Michaela is not so quick to jump on board with this plan. She tells them that as long as she can trust everyone, she could be down. But she tells us that her people don't seem to realize that by leaving four people on the bottom, all they need is one person to flip to have the numbers the rest of the way through the game.

We see Zeke and Michaela talking in camp and she is asking him if there's any funny stuff going on. She tells us that she trusts Zeke and doesn't want to vote him out just yet. So, she and Sarah get together and both discuss that they don't think this is a good move. They comment that their new group hasn't even made it through one vote together yet. As the tribe heads to Tribal, Sarah is weighing her options. She and Michaela both are scared of the 5-4 number that results from a Zeke vote here. However, with Andrea refusing to budge on this, it's really a line in the sand for her. And if she (or she and Michaela) decide not to vote Zeke that puts a big target on them. So, for the third week in a row, Sarah finds herself in the decision-maker spot at Tribal. If this is coming across to the jury, she could be setting herself up nicely for a final tribal.

Jeff begins Tribal with Sarah and asks her what happened at camp after Tribal. She tells him about owning up to flipping on the alliance of six - which garners a bird flip from Debbie on the jury. But she's not bitter. Nope, no way. Okay, well, Sarah doesn't have that vote. Brad, Sierra and Tai all talk about being on the bottom. Sierra is really nervous. Brad, not so much. Tai says that for the first time in two seasons, he feels like he might be going home. Zeke and Andrea both speak to how they're hoping the new six will stick together, but you never know. It's a far cry from the confidence shown last week.

Andrea also mentions that this is much different than what she's used to in this game. Of course, that's because she's from the Boston Rob school of Survivor. You lock in your alliance. You don't waiver from it. You don't talk to anyone else. You always have a "buddy" and you're just locked in from beginning to end. It's what made Redemption Island such a yawner of a season. Rob had his alliance on lock, so Andrea feels like that is just how it's supposed to be. The problem is that they're missing the Rob piece of that alliance.

Michaela and Zeke both discuss how making the simple move here is the best way to go. Zeke says the game is all about timing and the right time to make a move and right now is not the time. The numbers are just too close. Jeff asks Sierra what it was like to be on the bottom now. She says she pled her case to people and that she reminded them that she is a vote they can use. Her hands are tied and she's happy to follow whoever wants to lead her. Sarah and Michaela both speak to the bottom people trying to sell themselves. Sarah suggests that anyone trying to save themselves is going to make a solid argument to keep them around. Michaela admits that she'll listen to anyone's plea, but at the end of it all, she has to turn her heart down and make the move that is the best for her to move forward in the game. It is time to vote.

We see Sierra voting for Tai, saying she hopes it's him and not her tonight. We then see Zeke's vote for Sierra, saying simply, "So long, cowgirl." We see no other votes and Jeff is off to tally. Does anyone want to play an idol? Despite the fact that the four people on the bottom possess three combined idols - they all feel strong enough that they're safe that no one plays an idol. Not even Tai, who has two of them. Wait, what?? Ooooo-kay.

Let's read the votes. First vote: Tai. Sierra. Tai. Sierra. Tai. Three votes Tai, two votes Sierra. And then here they come...five votes for Zeke. The alliance turned on him. Meanwhile, the Brad/Sierra alliance turned on Tai, with all three of them casting votes for Tai. Sierra and Tai are dumbfounded by the results. Michaela shows the first real emotion she's shown in two seasons by crying huge tears as Jeff snuffs Zeke's torch. Now, she voted for him, don't mistake that. But she didn't want to. She just found herself in a position where she had no choice but to stay with the majority. Any sign of faltering makes her the next target.

I hate that Sarah and Michaela had to make this decision, but ultimately, what choice did they have? Flip sides and become the two bottom pieces in a new six-person alliance? Or stick with their people and live to fight another day? I think they did the right thing. I think Andrea did the right thing. Cirie and Aubry - I don't think so. I think they took out a major strategic player - someone who was shielding them from everyone else. And now, they could find themselves in the cross hairs.

Next time on Survivor: it's the family visit. There will be much weeping. Oh yeah, and there's still a game afoot. Sierra tells Officer Sarah about her Legacy Advantage. Sarah seems to think Sierra might be okay to keep around. And Michaela is seen high fiving with Sierra, Tai and Troyzan. So, everything is definitely fluid and the playing is not done yet. Before I head off into the sunset, I want to set the tables for David and Kim when they come back next week.

We are down to nine players. Within these nine players are three idols (two with Tai, one with Troy), a Legacy Advantage that Sierra holds and is an immunity idol at the final six and the vote stealer in Sarah's possession. So, there are five advantages in the game right now and only nine people. There are plenty of ways this can play out, so I'd expect the last few episodes of this season to be wild and crazy. Thanks for hanging with me for the last few weeks. It's been a blast. ‘Til next time, everyone, take Care!