Survivor: Game Changers Recap
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
By Kim Hollis
May 29, 2017

Most boring winner? Maybe.

Previously on Survivor, a couple of quick Tribal Councils saw Andrea and Michaela voted out. Of course, that wasn’t really the noteworthy part of the episode. Instead, Cirie tried to use Sarah’s vote stealer unsuccessfully. The reason for her disqualification is that the vote stealer wasn’t transferable. Thus, Sarah kept it and used it (angrily). Now, she and Cirie are at odds, but at this point, it’s pretty close to being every person for him or herself.

So, at long last, we have reached the finale of this Game Changers season. Our final six contestants will be winnowed down to three before a final Tribal Council. Let’s look at the players left and their chances at winning.

Aubry – Although Aubry is pretty enjoyable on a personal level, she hasn’t had the greatest season of Survivor. For the majority of the season, she’s been either in the minority alliance or in no real alliance at all. Much as we might like to see her win, it’s not going to happen.

Brad Culpepper – Speaking of being on the wrong side of alliances, it’s a miracle that Brad has lasted this long. He’s stepped back from some of the alpha male behavior that bit him during his first season, showing a more sensitive side. If he can somehow Immunity his way into the Final Three, he has a fair shot at winning (depending on the jury composition, of course).

Cirie – She’s not winning, and in fact, she may not make it past the next vote after the vote stealer gambit failed. Honestly, if they don’t vote her out, they’re fools. No way should she have made it to even the final six.

Sarah – It’s never felt like she’s played a particularly special game, but she’s done enough. She’s gotten people to vote with her, and she’s managed to be on the right side of alliances most of the time. She’s probably one of the most boring members of this cast, but for this season, she’s made a few moves that could win the respect of her peers in a final tribal. I would not take her to the Final Three if I could avoid it.

Tai – He’s really, really, really bad at the game of Survivor. Some of this is because he wears his heart on his sleeve, but it’s also because he can’t keep any secrets to himself. For that reason, he’s viewed as not trustworthy, which is fair. He just seems to be one of those people who collapses mentally as the game lasts longer. If it were me, I’d take him to the Final Three, because I see no way he wins.

Troyzan – Speaking of people to take to the Final Three, Troyzan has done absolutely nothing noteworthy gameplay-wise this season. He’ll certainly be viewed as a coattail-rider. The thing is, he hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s made sure he’s not the one receiving votes. He’s stuck with his alliances. But in a season titled “Game Changers,” his peers are going to expect more than what he’s offered with his subtle play.

Before we get started, let’s remember that Troyzan has an Immunity Idol, Tai has two Immunity Idols, and Sarah has an Immunity Idol that must be used at the next Tribal Council. That’s four idols and six people. Fun times ahead!

Let’s all pretend to be surprised by the fact that Sarah is pretty pissed that Cirie tried to use the vote stealer. In fact, she used the vote stealer specifically to get rid of Michaela because Michaela was Cirie’s “right hand man.”

Cirie tries to explain to Sarah that Tai had machinated the vote against Sarah, and that she was trying to keep her in the game. Of course, Sarah rightly points out that Cirie should have, you know, talked to her about it first.

On the plus side, Sarah notes, at least she still has her legacy advantage to be used at the next Tribal Council. Cirie knows she’s in big trouble, though.

Tai does admit to throwing Sarah’s name out as the person to vote out as the biggest threat. As a result, Sarah apologizes to Cirie and starts yelling at at Tai. He’s busted, but he still has two idols. He figures that he might be able to use them to gain trust.

Remember how we said that Tai can never keep his mouth shut? The next little while is the perfect example of that problem playing out. He goes straight to Brad Culpepper and tells him he has an idol. Actually, he tells him he has two idols. I guess he figures he wants to try to work with the guys now. Or something. We don’t know.

“Don’t tell Sarah,” Brad says to Tai. (Tai will probably tell everyone at camp that he has two idols.) Brad isn’t sure that he believes Tai has idols. He figures he can “use” him for votes.

With that, it’s time for a Probst sighting. They’re a lot less exciting than they used to be, believe us. Anyway, we’re going to do a combination Immunity/Reward Challenge. Today’s challenge has Survivors racing through a giant maze and collecting three bags along the way. The bags contain puzzle pieces for a final puzzle.

The winner of the challenge gets immunity, chicken parm and spaghetti and a dessert of key lime pie.

First two players back to work on the puzzle are Brad and Aubry, followed closely by Cirie and Troyzan. The puzzle has 41 pieces. Culpepper and Aubry get off to a fast start, and Sarah catches up. In the end, the race is between Sarah and Brad for immunity. Culpepper gets to his final piece and then realizes he’s missing a piece. He searches the bags and finds the one he was lacking. With that, he completes the puzzle and wins his third Immunity Challenge in a row.

“Pretty good for a dumb jock,” he says. (Of course, he’s a “dumb jock” who won the Academic Heisman, graduated after his junior year of college with a BA in History, and acquired his law degree with honors.)

He’s able to choose one person to enjoy reward with him, and he picks Troyzan without hesitation. However, Jeff tells him to pick one more person, and he goes with Sarah. She figures that hanging with the two of them will allow her to find out who might be willing to go to the end with her.

During their dinner, the three of them decide that they will vote for Aubry, although Brad would also like to force Tai to use one of his idols so he can get rid of him next time.

So… Brad goes to bully Tai. He says he needs a leap of faith from Tai. They’ll be voting for Aubry, but if he’s going to continue to trust Tai, he is required to play his idol.

“The only way I’ll believe in you is if you give me that second idol,” says Brad.

Let’s remember that this kind of bullying hasn’t really worked well on Tai in the past and for good reason. And there’s really no reason for him to give up his idol to Brad.

Tai goes to Aubry and starts crying as he reveals his idols to her. He tells her that she’s set to go home and that Brad is bullying him. Cirie interrupts to try to get Tai to join forces with her and Aubry. Eventually, Tai sends her away and cries a little bit more as he tries to get advice from Aubry.

By the time Tribal Council arrives, the only person who doesn’t know Tai has two idols is Cirie. “I need to toughen up,” Tai says, as he cries. The only reason people are trying to work with him is because they want something. Welcome to the game of Survivor, big guy.

At Tribal Council, Aubry tells Probst that the group had come to a conclusion that they had a rat in their midst – Tai. He excuses his behavior by saying that everyone lies and deceives in the game. “We were all caught lying. Why am I the only one getting the heat?”

Sarah says it’s because he doesn’t take responsibility for his lies, but Probst wonders if that isn’t a little bit hypocritical.

Even though it seemed at the beginning of the episode that Cirie was in serious trouble, Tai is obviously the odd man out at this Tribal Council. Still, assuming he plays his idol, there’s no reason to think he’s going home. Since Sarah must play her idol and Troyzan is pretty much forced to do so if the other two do, we’re looking at a choice between Aubry and Cirie tonight.

Probst asks if anyone would like to use a hidden Immunity Idol.

Tai gets up and says he’d like to play his blue idol for himself. He has a red idol that he’d like to play for Aubry. Then, Sarah plays her legacy advantage. Troyzan, with sudden awareness dawning all over his face, gets up and plays his idol.

Thus, Cirie is the only person who can get voted out. For the first time ever, someone is voted out without receiving a vote. This Tribal Council has the most immunity idols ever played, the most people safe from votes, and the first person to be voted out without getting a vote.

Probst gives Cirie her due respect. There are very few people in the game that he likes as much as he does her. She cries while she talks about her love for the game.

“It has been an honor to have you as a part of the Survivor family,” says Probst, and everyone claps for her.

We go straight from Tribal Council to our next Immunity Challenge. It’s one of those mental challenges that involve using paddles to maneuver a ball through a series of obstacles. The first person to transfer three all the way to the finish, wins immunity. If they drop a ball, they have to go back to the start (although they don’t lose any balls that are in the final spot).

It’s one of those challenges that is boring as hell to recap. Brad Culpepper gets all of his balls complete before anyone else can even get one. He’s won his fourth Immunity Challenge in a row and is now just one away from the record. He cries as he says that the win was for Monica.

Aubry figures that she is in really bad shape now, especially because Brad has shown no interest in working with her.

And in fact, Brad, Sarah and Troyzan agree that they will vote for Aubry. She makes the argument that Troyzan should go because Brad will for sure take Troy to the final. It’s an okay argument, but it sounds like everyone, including Tai is in agreement that Aubry poses the greatest threat in the Final Three.

Brad bullies Tai a bit more. This makes Tai decide to flip back over to Aubry. Sigh.

Aubry argues for Troyzan at Tribal Council, and he non-humbly replies that he thinks he can beat anyone in the game. Sure, buddy. There’s a lot of jabber, but we’re pretty confident Aubry will go home here. She’s by far the bigger threat both in challenges and at a final tribal council than Troyzan or Tai. And apparently, Sarah’s not on the chopping block, but she really should be.

No one has a hidden Immunity Idol, so whoever receives the most votes will be gone tonight. Aubry gets every vote except her own. She says she’s happy to be on the jury, though.

And so we have arrived at the final Immunity Challenge. Today, they’ll go through an obstacle and down a giant water slide, collecting pieces for a lighthouse puzzle. Sarah takes an early lead, with Troyzan close behind her. Eventually, Troy falls way behind and Culpepper catches up. By the time they get to their third bag, Brad has passed her. Still, all three of Tai, Culpepper and Sarah are working on their puzzle at the same time. Troyzan eventually gets his final puzzle pieces, and all Survivors are constructing their lighthouses.

Culpepper wins his fifth Immunity Challenge in a row, equaling the record. He’s in the Final Three.

“Quite frankly, I can beat every single one of them,” Brad says. However, he plans to send Tai home because of all his betrayals. I think it’ll be close between him and Sarah if that’s what it comes to, but he could demolish Tai in a vote.

So I guess we’re playing “It’s Anyone But Tai.”

Tai tries to convince Sarah that they should join forces and vote Troyzan to send the game to a tie and fire-building. Sarah would be silly to think anyone but Tai is going home, though. She figures that Tai has made big moves and played three idols, while Troyzan hasn’t done much of anything. Tai tells her how to make fire, but she only seems to be semi-paying attention. She doesn’t need to know how if they vote for Tai.

Tribal Council is spent convincing us that maybe someone other than Tai will go home, but obviously they vote him out. If there is one thing Brad has right, it’s that he can beat Troyzan in the Final Tribal. But can he beat Sarah? Brad thinks so.

Day 39 and we’re just wasting time until the final Tribal Council. The three remaining Survivors eat their feast and ruminate on their chances to win.

On to the Tribal Council we’ve all been waiting for. This time, they’re going to handle things a little bit differently. They’ll allow more open discussion between the jury and the final three. The focus will be the three tenets of Survivor – outwit, outplay and outlast.

Beginning with a discussion of outwit/social, Zeke addresses Sarah. He mentions that he had given her his jacket to wear on a cold night at Tribal Council – and then she blindsided him. Then, she wore his jacket to every Tribal Council after that. “Hot damn, that is badass,” he says. He brings up that Sierra gave Sarah the Legacy Advantage even as she was voting her out. “I will be your champion,” Zeke says.

On the other hand, Andrea says that Sarah’s social manipulation feels gross. Sarah replies that her relationships in the game were real. Many of the jury members laugh uproariously.

At this point, Ozzy lectures Sarah about her dishonesty and says that he is Brad’s champion. He can be so sanctimonious sometimes.

But who will be Troyzan’s champion?

Some of the jury members wonder how much Brad relied on Sierra being the brain of their alliance to get where he is tonight. He claims that he was part of the biggest game changing move of the game when JT told him Sierra would be voted out, and he saved her and eliminated Malcolm.

Michaela wonders, since this is the discussion of the social aspect of the game, how much Brad actually knows about her. He rattles off some superficial things, but conversely, we wonder how much she knows about Brad.

Back to Sarah, and everyone feels super slimy about their “friendships” with her. Tai says that he’s really troubled by this epiphany, because he believed that what he had with Sarah was real. Everyone laughs again. This leads Sarah to talk about herself in the third person and note that she tried to be real the first time she played, but that got her nowhere. She decided to do whatever it took this time around. And she’s able to do this because she’s translating her cop persona to the game of Survivor.

Debbie talks about Machiavelli and Lady MacBeth. She makes no sense. Michaela wonders why everyone took Sarah’s actions so personally, which earns a glower from Debbie.

Then, Michaela finally addresses Troyzan, who might as well not have been there up to now. She wonders what he actually did from a social perspective. He said he talked to everyone and had social experiences. Ozzy thinks there’s a difference between being a passenger and a driver. Aubry tries to throw him a lifeline by asking what his strategy was. He basically says that he just tried to avoid being voted out.

“So, a little like Sandra without the sass,” Aubry says.

Sierra defends him, saying that she was in an alliance with him and had the opportunity to see more of the nuances of his gameplay. Aubry tells him it ain’t over yet.

Brad notes that he and Michaela were kind of like oil and water, but tells Tai that they most have gotten along well enough, because Tai told him about the two idols. Brad says he was just trying to get some sort of display of trust out of him.

“Do you know how you talk to people?” Tai asks. He’s absolutely right.

Clarifying, Haley asks, “Did you say that you used condescension as a strategy?”

She’s gonna be a great attorney, we think.

Debbie excuses Brad’s alpha behavior by attributing it to testosterone. Eye roll.

We spend less time on Outplay. Ozzy declares that Brad won, snottily telling the other jury members that Brad should win because he relied upon himself and won challenges.

Probst moves on to Debbie. We fast forward.

Sarah reminds everyone that Brad was once a professional athlete, and says that she had to rely on the tools she had to outplay. She manipulated Sierra into giving her the legacy advantage, for example. Her attention to detail allowed her to get the vote stealer and later use it against Michaela. She was in on every single vote, too.

They make their final arguments, which are about what you’d expect, although Troyzan just basically tells everyone how much he loved playing with them and understands he’s not getting any votes. He says this through tears.

And in the end, the winner of Survivor Game Changers is Sarah. She got every vote except three. As you might expect, those three were Ozzy, Debbie and Sierra.

Thanks for hanging with us for Survivor this season – see you in the fall!