Survivor: Game Changers

The Characters and Their Stories: Episodes 1 and 2 – The Unknown

The Characters and Their Stories is a blog in which Michel Trudeau uses the edit to determine the themes of the season to try to find its long-term players. Each week, he will explores the overt signs as well as the more nuanced nods.

The Unknown

tree-1Introduction

Jeff:  “The game of Survivor has evolved…These are the players that changed the game.”

Tony: “Coming into this game, I already know that I am a huge threat.  I created the spy shack, I found the special idol, I voted out my closest allies, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you ain’t seen nothing yet.””

Malcolm:  “In Survivor: Philippines and Survivor: Caramoan, I swung for the fences and made some splashy, firework type moves.  I have a reputation to uphold and I’m going to keep on making big moves (Ozzy shown on screen).  I’m so excited I can’t stop bouncing in my seat! Ha! Ha!”

Sandra: “I’m the only person to ever win Survivor two times and it wasn’t just luck.  That’s what I know how to do:  Make it to day 39 and not get voted off.  (Andrea and Sierra shown). The queen stays queen:  Adios!”

Cirie:  “I am a bona fide ex-couch potato that saw this game and loved it.  I’m a gangster with a smile, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I’ve made it to the end so what’s the next step?  The only next step for me is to win.”

Debbie: “Anybody who watched Survivor: Kaoh Rông [knows] that I got strength like a gymnast and tenacity like a giant squid. When I come into this game it’s to go for broke.  This is the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes (Michaela seen, then Caleb and Ciera) all at once so you better go for it.”

We had a break to show quick scenes of future events while Jeff delivered his pitch.

Brad: “We’ve all changed the game so, to win this game, you got to go big or go home.”

This is when we heard the Survivor tribal chant and saw a brief intro which featured the image of a male standing alone in a victory pose.  Were they spoiling the gender of the winner?  I remember them showing two males (one with a baseball cap no less!) and one female during the Redemption Island introduction. We also had a quick glimpse of the Tarsier that was so prominently featured during Caramoan.  Then, it was associated with Cochran so this could be a hint to look at the two former Caramoan players, Malcolm and Andrea.

Jeff’s introduction:  “Some of you made bold moves (Tony). Some of you made quiet moves (Sierra). Some of you made moves that were so successful that they are legendary (Malcolm and Cirie) and others have made moves that were a disaster (Ozzy) and got you voted out but that is the nature of the game in which there is only one winner.  Most moves won’t work (Sierra, Brad and Zeke). It’s having the guts to make the move that got you here.”

Jeff then asked Ozzy how much time he’s spent thinking of his mistakes.

Ozzy: “I have crazy dreams, wake up sweating with a million dollars slipping through my fingers (Varner) but I also have amazing memories that I would never give up.”

Jeff then asked JT about being with some other winners.

JT: “I think it’s great that I’m not the only winner here but I don’t think it matters at all.  Sandra is not going to be the only two-time winner, I don’t think.”

Turning to Cirie, Jeff said: “If JT is right, you have no shot.”

Cirie: “Who says JT is right?”

Asked about being with players who know the game, Zeke said: “As a fan, I am geeking out quite a bit.  You wonder if you belong on this boat.  I intend to prove that I do.”

Jeff then told them about the supplies and a twist:  A massive toolkit was up for grabs out in the ocean.

We heard JT saying: “Ozzy’s gotta go.”

As an editing analyst, I just love these “double-entendres”.

In fact, Ozzy was the only one to go right away for the advantage.  Probst was dumbfounded that no one from Mana appeared to care.  Finally, Caleb challenged the former “King Neptune” but he was too little too late.

Andrea picked up a crate which had a secret advantage envelope underneath it.  She didn’t notice it so it stayed there for a long time until Sierra finally picked it.

Tai grabbed the chicken and they almost killed him! the crate falling on his head.

Both tribes got a veritable cornucopia of supplies but Nuku got the tools and the chicken.

JT promised to build a mansion with those tools.  (How long will he enjoy it though?)

Andrea had a confessional right after Jeff said: “For one of you, this is the beginning of a million dollar adventure.

Andrea’s thoughts: “It’s Survivor: Game Changers so you can’t just sit around and hope to make it to the end.  The stakes have been raised.  This is going to be an epic season.  So, game on!”

As always, it is important to note the players that were heard during the opening segment.  More often than not, the eventual winner will have been heard by now.  The list includes:  Malcolm, Sandra, Cirie (twice), Debbie, Brad, Ozzy, JT, Zeke and Andrea.  That means we already have a question mark by the names of Sierra, Tai, Sarah, Michaela, Hali, Varner, Troyzan, Caleb and Aubry.  It’s not a huge question mark, but still, why weren’t they included?

By having the confessional immediately after Probst’s words of a million-dollar adventure, I think Andrea just positioned herself at the very top of the list of contenders.

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Scene 1

The Mana tribe arrived at their camp.

The first hug seen was between Varner and Michaela.

Hali’s interview: “Seeing the flag was like déjà vu.  I mean that’s when you really feel like you’re on Survivor.  Everyone here is like a snake in the grass but I’m like the cobra that you don’t know is sitting underneath you and then all of a sudden it strikes and you don’t know what hit you.”

Interesting interview but it could only have been inserted to fabricate an explanation for Hali’s presence on this cast, not to foreshadow anything.  We’ll need to see that cobra in action first.

Michaela’s interview: “This season, I believe my best shot at winning is schmoozing up to everybody and making them feel awesome.  Every time someone starts talking to me, I’m going to go like this (we see her biting her tongue) because I can’t control my facial expressions.  It is very difficult for me to lie.”

After collecting some bamboo, Tony told everyone he’d be out looking for an idol.

The fool immediately took off!

The nine others decided they would just vote him off first.

Malcolm’s interview: “All of a sudden that big bald maniac screams: “I’m going for the idol, baby!  Woo-hoo-hoo!” If you’re going to call a season “Game Changers” I think it’s more important for me to get a foothold with alliances and making relationships and not be pulling a “Tony” who is freaking out everyone at camp with all of his idol hunting.”

Considering this, I wonder if Malcolm’s future alliance talk with Tony were real or if we only saw the parts where he pretended to be with Tony.  I think Malcolm was never really with Tony but he was so hesitant that it enabled production to hide his real intentions until the second vote.

Tony couldn’t believe that no one was following him.  He simply wanted to rattle them, that they would follow so he’d tell them he was just messing around but now he was really going to hunt for idols.

Sandra’s interview:  “Everyone is already talking about: “We really can’t trust Tony; he doesn’t know what he’s doing” but I don’t know that we can hurry up and take Tony out because we need him.  He is a physical player and we need strength.”

Sandra and Caleb met Tony in the woods and told him he was getting everyone paranoid.

Caleb‘s confessional: “I like Tony; he’s got high spirits.  Day one, paranoia, stirring up trouble– all I can say is that’s just Tony for you.  You wouldn’t expect anything less but he’s got a big target on his back.”

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Doing some island hopping, we went over to Nuku who had three visiting goats.

Here, the first hug was between Ozzy and Brad.

Zeke’s interview:  “I’m here to slay everyone and to win a million dollars, right, but I have like the greatest tribe ever (Sierra shown laughing).  I’ve got the goddess Cirie! I’ve got Ozzy! I’ve got JT!  I’m playing surrounded by Game Changers so part of me has to keep slapping myself, saying:  You’re out here too.  You belong out here and you need to act like it so I want to get my hands dirty.  I want to lather myself in the blood of my enemies, right?  I want to change the game!  That’s what I love about Survivor.”

Both of Zeke’s interview have been about the fan trying to fit in but they have enough substance to give us the impression that Zeke will indeed play an important part in the game.

When the tribe saw the goats, Brad remarked: “If you want to kill a goat, we’d have to kill Tai.”

(Or vote him out…)

Sarah’s confessional: “I have a phenomenal social game.  I’m a police officer so I can read people and with a season called “Game Changers”, I feel like somebody will get anxious (Zeke shown) and feel as if they need to make a move which will put a target on their back and then I got to be the silent assassin!  Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Sierra walked off alone to give an interview: “Finding the secret advantage, it’s just giving me this opportunity to do something big and it’s exactly what I wanted to do with my game this time around.”

It was a “legacy advantage”:  Sierra read that the advantage would give her immunity either at Final 13 (which tells us when the merger will happen) or at final 6.

Sierra’s confessional continued: “The legacy advantage opens up a lot of doors for me: I’m already a strong competitor, I know what it takes to do it socially.  I mean, I’m a cowgirl– like my job is working out with guys every day of my life.  My comfort is hanging out with the guys so I’ve got to keep them close.”

The first guy she talked to was Brad.  The two agreed to work together and that Ozzy would be a great ally.

Brad’s interview: “In Blood versus Water, it was so difficult.  I had my wife Monica on one side and I had my side that I came on and I was very aggressive.  This time around, I’m trying to let everyone come to me and I find myself saying: “WWMD:  What Would Monica Do? and I promise you she’d be slow-playing this right now.  I got a long way to go but I think I’m off on the right foot.”

Yes Monica slow-played it so much in One World that the 5-women alliance formed before she realized it.   However, it does appear that Brad is right about his good start.

Sierra then approached Ozzy and talked about being a team player and about having a core alliance.  They agreed that Cirie was scary.

Ozzy’s interview: “I think my competition is fierce.  In Survivor, big moves always require big risks.  A lot of times they are not successful but if you don’t make them your chances of winning the game are very small.  Cirie and I played together in Fans versus Favorites and Cirie helped to get me out.  I’m not sure if I can trust her.  So, this time around, as a game changer, I need to be the master of blindsides and if we lose an immunity challenge, it’s going to be Cirie that is going to go.”

Since Mana went to both Tribal Councils and a swap is coming next, it’s hard to make sense of anything that happened in Nuku but I think Sierra’s role as alliance maker has to be noted.  That is something we didn’t see in her first season and she solidified things nicely with Brad and Ozzy who both had a good start to the game.  Hearing Zeke talking about covering himself with the blood of his enemies and juxtaposing that with Sarah’s interview about players being too anxious hints that while he will have an impact, she will be there waiting to catch him.

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Scene 2

We were still in Nuku and Cirie was observing the work in camp.

Cirie’s interview: “I think it is good that you can say you put the past behind but I knew that it was a problem when I saw Ozzy on the same tribe as me.  What the hell?!  I didn’t start the blindside on Ozzy. I participated in Fans versus Favorites but that was 8 years ago or something.  Get on with it.”

That’s an interesting quote from Cirie from a historical point of view.  As many others, I had given Cirie full credit for blindsiding Ozzy while the show later tried to paint Parvati as the mastermind.  Now even Cirie says she was simply a participant.

Cirie talked to Ozzy, asking if they were good.  Ozzy said they were.  They even shook hands.

Cirie’s interview went on:  “Maybe everybody will remain calm.”

Ozzy, JT and Tai took a walk in the jungle and Ozzy said: “With Cirie, it really wasn’t anything because she just went along with what my alliance decided to do so I can’t hold that against her.”

Again, this indicates that the presentation of Cirie masterminding Ozzy’s demise during Micronesia wasn’t accurate.  She certainly talked about it and wanted him out but it’s possible that we should give more credit to Parvati.

Tai’s interview: “I had a conversation with JT and Ozzy and they keep bringing Cirie out.  He and Cirie have a history; he doesn’t trust Cirie but I like Cirie so I don’t want to get caught in something that Cirie has to go.”

Tai went to clean the chicken coop with Cirie.

Sharks were seen attacking right before Cirie had her conversation with Tai so those two are in danger.

Cirie asked him about his conversation with Ozzy.  He couldn’t answer her so she said: “You paused.  That pause is giving me concerns.”

Tai should never play poker! 

Cirie’s interview:  “So, just hearing the way Ozzy is feeling about me I know it’s going to take more than the conversation we had.  Listen, the war is going to start anyway; what difference does it make if the war starts tonight or tomorrow?  There will be blood either way.”

Nuku’s story will mostly be about “Cirie the Underdog”.  It certainly plays to her fan base who will worry about her chances but will it be a season long story or is she really in so much trouble that she cannot escape?  The shark imagery suggests she will fall but it could be a smoke screen.

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We followed a school of fish over to Mana but before we got there, we were attacked by sharks!  The music was intense and it ended in a long fade out while the camera turned from the group of Mana players over to the solitary Tony and then back to a close up of Ciera.

We saw two sharks attacking and we were shown the tribe’s two victims!   Was the shark attack symbolizing only their next two immunity losses or is this whole tribe doomed?  I wouldn’t eliminate everyone in Mana so early, but we’ll have to keep it in mind.  

Tony asked if anyone wanted a refill of water and he went to the well.  He told us that these bums were talking while he’s working.  He started building a spy bunker next to the water well.  He got caught while digging by Troyzan.

It would have been much simpler to use the bushes nearby which he would eventually be forced to do anyway!

Troyzan’s interview:  “Tony is the biggest threat here.  He’s probably the number one game changer, and look, I already caught him digging in places like the idol weasel.  I mean he’s out of control and then he acted like: “Hey bro! What’s up?”  I didn’t confront him but when he’s guilty he has a fantastic guilty face but I got to be very careful with a guy like that.”

Troy told Malcolm about Tony’s activities.  Malcolm told Hali who quickly relayed the information to Ciera, Aubry, Michaela and then Varner.

Ciera had an interview telling us that she’s played with winners before so she thought it gave her an advantage.

To the group, Ciera said they should split the vote between Tony and Caleb, his right hand man.  Varner didn’t like the idea of going after Caleb.

Malcolm’s interview:  “It’s open season on who the first target for this tribe is.  Everyone is playing nice with everybody but names are being thrown out:  Caleb, Tony.  These are two people who I don’t want to go at all.  What I do know is the person throwing these names out:  Ciera.  Strategically, for my game, I am where I want to be.  Everyone is talking to me but if Ciera is the one who is going to push us out of Zen mode in this tribe, it makes it easy to target her early.”

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Scene 3 – The Immunity Challenge

These first two challenges worked well to Ozzy’s advantage and the next one would also.  If all challenges involve water, “King Neptune” may very well thrive.

When Jeff announced that there wouldn’t be any revotes this season, Andrea told him it really impacted the split vote strategy.

Well, maybe you don’t split votes 4-4 but 5-3!

Mana in a strange strategic decision chose Hali to compete against Ozzy in the swimming portion of the challenge.  Hali did OK but this tactical error gave Nuku a big lead.

Nuku also made a weird strategic choice when they gave the keys to Debbie.  Varner gave a momentary lead to his tribe but then, according to Jeff, he started panicking.  Varner said he wasn’t panicking but he certainly was stalled.

Cirie and Zeke beat Ciera and Sandra on the wheel puzzle.  Nuku won immunity!

Ciera had the kiss-of-death confessional spot telling us that she let everybody down.

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Scene 4

Varner’s interview:  “Losing the first immunity challenge is nothing new to me.  That’s exactly what’s happened to me every time I’ve ever played.  Nobody wants to be the first person voted out.  To even have to go to the first Tribal is awful.  Even though Tony is a snake, my gut is telling me to keep the tribe strong.  When you talk about game changing, you talk about Ciera.  She voted her mother out!  That says a lot.  Ciera has flipped-flopped; she’s forced ties.  Ciera is slick.”

Caleb, Tony, Aubry, Malcolm and Varner were at the well and when Caleb mentioned Ciera’s name, Aubry and Malcolm were quick to say that she had thrown Caleb and Tony’s names out there.  Sandra joined them and agreed to their plan.  When they saw Ciera approaching them Tony suggested they tell her Michaela was their target.

Sandra informed Troyzan, Hali and Michaela that Ciera was the target.

Michaela’s interview: “Going into Tribal Council tonight is going to be an easy vote.  The name Ciera came up and I’m perfectly fine with that.  That’s actually who I want to go home first.”

Back in camp, Michaela wanted to know who Ciera was told was going home.  When she learned from Tony that she was the pawn, she didn’t like it.  She reacted very strongly.

The rest of the episode was spent trying to convince us that Michaela was going home.

Aubry’s interview: “Michaela is a bit of an odd one to handle.  She has a hot streak and if you ignite that the wrong way, the whole place is burning down.”

Sandra’s interview:  “The plan was Ciera was going home but the only issue is the minute they told Michaela that it was going to be Ciera, but that we were telling Ciera it was going to be Michaela, then it was a different story.  Michaela was pouting, making these faces like she was pissed off.  When push comes to shove, we could easily pick off Ciera some other time.  If Michaela is somebody we need to take out, she is somebody we need to take out quick, fast and in a hurry.”

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Tribal Council

Tony told Jeff that the tribe quickly put the brakes on his craziness.

Malcolm said that Tony went looking for the idol only 10 seconds after they got in camp.  He added that they were enjoying themselves.

Aubry said they were trying to figure out if the players they saw on TV were the same in reality.

Caleb agreed with Jeff that the fact he never went to Tribal Council could be an advantage since people don’t know what he can do, but it could also frighten people.

Michaela hoped that she made a good impression.

Sandra said she liked Michaela.  When Jeff said a two-time winner would be an easy target, Sandra said she wouldn’t be the first to go because everyone loves her.  No one would give her a third million anyway.

Varner explained that many different groups talked about the vote so it was very unsettling.

Hali said the vote had two components:  They had to think of challenges and about some feathers that were ruffled.  She added that loose lips sink ships.

Jeff noticed Ciera’s facial expression.

Ciera said she was wondering about the loose lips comment because it made her wonder if she was in the majority.

Michaela said she was expecting at least one vote against her.

Sandra gave Jeff (and me) the title for the first three days:  “The Unknown”.

Ciera was voted out unanimously.  She didn’t even get final words except for the good luck wish she sent to the tribe.

Jeff sent them back to camp with flint and these words to ponder:  “No matter how the game of Survivor evolves, one thing always remains true: blindsides never go out of style.”

After catching the flint, Sandra told Jeff: “I wear glasses now so don’t throw things at me anymore.”  It made him laugh.

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Episode 2 – Take Your Ass Home

Scene 1 – The Morning After

Tony had the first interview, saying that the last council was the smoothest he ever saw.  He added that everyone was waiting for someone to make the first move.  He was bored and just sitting back so he wanted to get it into gear and jump into action.

He’d soon get more action than he could handle.

Tony quickly formed an alliance of 5, first with Aubry and then adding Malcolm, Caleb and Sandra.

Aubry’s interview:  “I talked to Tony this morning.  He’s a threat in the game and so am I and I want to play with people who are threats because I think it’s the best thing for me right now.”

Tony explained his plan of going with threats because they would shield him.

Sandra’s interview:  “I want to work with Tony, you know, he’s a winner. I’m a winner. JT is a winner.  We do have to protect each other for a little bit.  Tony wants me in his alliance of five– my game is pretty simple:  As long as it’s not me, I don’t care who goes home which I really don’t.  I honestly believe that Tony is going to help my game.  As long as our interests line up, there is no end to the damage we can do together.”

I wonder if this interview was conducted before the game even started, before Sandra actually saw Tony in action.  One thing that could point to it is that we didn’t see Sandra wearing a buff during that interview.  It isn’t conclusive but part of this could have come from pre-game interviews.  I say this because I wonder if Sandra was really interested in aligning with Tony on the morning of Day 4.  The part where she said “Tony wants me in his alliance of five” certainly came from Day 4 but that was heard in voiceover so it could have been spliced in.  The next words were heard with Sandra on screen and still without a buff.  It would have been fun to see Sandra and Tony working together but what was about to happen was much better!

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Accompanied by the sounds of joyous string instruments, we flew over to the peaceful Nuku camp.

Tai was taking care of the chicken.

Debbie’s confessional: “Tai and chicken have a history that’s sketchy.  There is going to come a point where those chicken start looking like Angus cattle so we shouldn’t be getting too attached to them.”

But then Debbie started naming the chickens.

Tai’s confessional: “The chickens have become my responsibility to keep them alive.  Nobody else would.  I’m the chicken guy.  It’s like a burden but it’s a responsibility I don’t mind taking on.”

When JT started cutting the corn off the cob, Tai objected because he wanted to leave it for the chickens.  JT said the chickens were getting more food than they were!

JT’s confessional: “Tai and myself, we both love the animals, no doubt about it.  I’m a country boy from Alabama but I’m looking out for me and Tai seems to be looking out for the chickens!  I think the chickens, inevitably, are going to hurt Tai.  In this level of competition and in this game, everything you do is critiqued; everything can be a reason for someone to get rid of you.  He’s got to decide what he is here to do:  Win a million dollars or marry these chickens.”

Right then, we heard the chickens as if they were trying to influence Tai’s decision!

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Since nothing more strategic was happening in Nuku, we went back to Mana.

There is really little place in today’s Survivor for fun and we just wasted 2 whole minutes on a fun scene.

Tony couldn’t sleep so he raced out to build his spy shack.  He was only halfway done when Troyzan and Sandra came up to the well.  Tony bailed out and crawled over to the bushes where he spied on the pair.  Troyzan was talking about Tony not really being a threat because no one would ever join forces with him.  Hearing his name tossed out, Tony confronted them.  Troyzan and Sandra said they were looking at the tide and the crate.

Tony would have been wiser to continue gathering more information or keeping this to himselfJumping out of the dark showed Troyzan and Sandra just how paranoid he really was.  It was funny hearing him say that he was upset to see Sandra sneaking around when he was doing the same thing!

Sandra’s interview:  “I thought I had aligned myself with Tony but he’s running around acting crazy.  If he wants to look me in the eyes like the fuzz, like the police are taught to do, I don’t want to ever deal with that again.  There is no telling what this dude will do for a million dollars.  Tony needs to go home.”

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Scene 2

Our 5th day started in Nuku.

JT and Ozzy were saying how the first week is the hardest.  JT told Ozzy that he trusted him 100%.  Ozzy agreed.

Cirie was observing them.  She gave us an interview:  “I know Ozzy is coming for me and I see that Ozzy and JT seem super tight which is not good for me.  My whole life right now is hanging by a string in this game.  I think they think Cirie the legend Jedi mind trick puppet master is trying to get me.  That might be so but just not right now!  Ha! Ha!  So I have to try and weed out who I can play with and who I can’t.  I have to get in with somebody.  I can’t play by myself.”

Cirie went to talk with Sarah.  She told her they were solid even if they didn’t talk much.

Sarah’s interview:  “I told Cirie I’m good with her but if someone is going to throw her name out I’m going to go with it.  Last time I played like a cop; look where it got me.  This time, I’m playing like a criminal and we’ll see where it gets me.  My word is not my bond in this game this time.”

While this is a good plan for this evil game, I have a problem with showing it if Sarah was going to win.  Would they really want to show that acting like a “corrupt cop” is the way to win Survivor?  With her confessional content, I expect Sarah will do well but that a jury will find her “guilty”, meaning they’ll think she doesn’t deserve to win the game.

Cirie then talked to Zeke. She hoped he would never screw her and hoped he would keep his options open.  She promised him she’d tell him if she heard his name mentioned.  He said they were solid.

Zeke’s interview:  “Cirie is a masterful player.  She has like this mystical quality that draws you in.  I wanted nothing more than to work with Cirie, but as gaga as I am to be playing with her, Cirie is arguably the most dangerous player so my gut tells me that it’s too early in the game to align with someone who everyone is gunning for.”

Next, Cirie approached Debbie giving her a “gift” in the form of advice.  She said that Debbie was giving the impression of talking to everybody which could get her in trouble.  Debbie said she didn’t think she was.  Cirie wanted Debbie to agree that one of the guys would go if they were to lose.

Debbie’s interview:  “I don’t fully trust Cirie because she’s feeding me what she thinks is counter-intelligence:  “Hey Debbie, I’m doing you a favor, pal!  I’m coming to you and telling you they are trying to get you out.”  I assessed it. I don’t buy it.  I don’t know if Cirie understands what kind of training I’ve been through.  I am a captain in the civil air patrol.  Although I don’t get paid in dollars, I get paid in military training so it’s going to take a lot to outwit me.  All you have at the end of the day as far as who to trust is your instinct and your internal radar, your BS detector and mine says Cirie would be on the chopping block if we lost and she’s looking for an opening.  I admire it but my BS detector was going:  Han, Han, Han! with what she was telling me.”

We will see about that!  I remember that an 18-year-old girl, Julia, completely fooled her in Kaôh Rông.  Debbie was so convinced they could trust Julia that her own alliance had to ditch her!  It’s very interesting that they build this whole scene about Cirie being in danger when not only did this tribe win immunity, it will never be going to Tribal Council.  With such a powerful underdog story, the legend of Cirie will only grow if she makes it far.  Imagine if she does take the next step and wins!

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A solitary shark was lurking off the coast of Mana.

Sandra asked Hali if Tony had approached her with talks about his alliance of five.  Hali said Tony hadn’t talked to her at all so she wanted to know if he had included Sandra in his alliance.  Sandra said that, according to Tony, she was but she wanted to turn the tables on him because he wasn’t the boss.

Not talking to someone is a big flaw in anyone’s social game.

Sandra’s confessional:  “I’m done:  Tony cannot be trusted.  I think he feels like he can do whatever but he is totally confused because this is my game.  You know that saying that you are only the king until the queen arrives!  I’m here.  I was born to play this game.  It’s so natural to me that I don’t feel I have to put too much effort.  I have to make sure that I’m still here, I’m still on top, and I’m still the queen.  Tony is going home and that’s it!”

Sandra informed first Troyzan then Varner of Tony’s alliance plans.  Troyzan told Michaela of the new developments.

Varner’s interview:  “Sandra put together an alliance of five in just 15 minutes.  I mean, that’s scary!  Sandra knows what she’s doing.  She’s won this game twice for a reason.  When two winners of Survivor go after each other for another million dollars, it gets ugly fast and I love it!  I can’t wait to see the fireworks.”

Scene 3 – Mana Day 6

Aubry asked Tony if he was working with Sandra.  He said he wasn’t because he caught her talking to Troyzan at the well.

In interview, Tony told us he knew Sandra was plotting against him.  He didn’t really like weasels.

After talking to Tony, Malcolm gave us an interview:  “You can’t let Sandra get an army, mobilize her forces and have them at her beck and call whenever she wants them because that’s how she won the game twice.  As far as allies go, Tony is not my first choice but he is somebody I think I can work with, not because I can trust him.  I don’t trust any further than I can throw his big bald body but it benefits me to have the strong players there as long as possible.  I need camouflage and the more targets around the better.”

Caleb told Tony that he wasn’t with Sandra and he was down with him.

Caleb’s interview:  “With Sandra and Tony, I don’t think you can trust either one of them, but right now, I feel I can trust Tony more than I can trust Sandra because he’s got a big target on his back and I feel the same way so we got to try and keep each other safe.  Playing with Tony is dangerous but, for challenges, we got to keep the tribe strong.  It might be a bloodbath later but, for now, we got to win.”

In the middle of Caleb’s confessional, we heard him talking to Malcolm about everyone being oblivious to Sandra’s game.

I wonder what changed Malcolm and Caleb’s mind.  Did Sandra rally them or did someone else get to them?  It could be as simple as counting the votes and realizing that Tony was on a sinking ship but with a split vote plan in play they could have saved him.  The person acting behind the scene could very well have been Varner.

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The Challenge

When Jeff announced that Ciera had been voted out, we heard Ozzy’s reaction: “I knew it.”

The challenge was for both immunity and reward which was a fishing kit.

Cirie sat out for Nuku.

Led by Ozzy, Nuku took the lead when it came time to untie the underwater snake.

Once more, Jeff berated Varner’s efforts, saying he was barking orders from the safety of the cage when it would have been better to have everyone going underwater.  When Mana tried to lift their snake, we heard Varner saying he didn’t have the strength to do it which led to another comment from Jeff: “Varner has been useless so far in this challenge.”

This pattern seems very bad for Varner.  It sets up an early boot due to poor challenge performances.

While Mana was still struggling with their snake, Sierra and JT were taking turns hitting targets for Nuku.  They already had 5 letters when Malcolm started throwing rings.  He made a valiant effort to catch up (aided somewhat by the challenge design because the targets were on a diagonal with the last letters much further away than the first ones) and he actually tied it at 6 but, by then, JT had figured the range of those longer shots and he scored the next two to win immunity for Nuku.  Michaela was visibly upset that Malcolm didn’t give her a shot.

Malcolm’s interview: “I can’t lose every damn challenge and expect to win “Game Changers” so we need to keep the strong people who are good at challenges around as long as possible or else we’re doomed.”

With the vote already set up, the interviewers could focus on someone who was about to see his first option taken away.  This is very encouraging for Malcolm’s supporters.

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Scene 4

We saw more sharks going after their prey.

Michaela’s interview:  “The challenge today was deplorable.  It was so frustrating because I am a strong player.  That’s the only reason that I’m here.  So, to be standing there, doing nothing, while weaker players lose it again pissed me off but other people are making decisions for the group so I guess I just got to sit here and deal with it.”

While everyone stayed silent in camp, the music underlined the tension in the air.

Sandra’s interview:  “At this point, I’m almost sure I have the numbers to vote out Tony.  He feels like he can do whatever; he’s running around acting like he’s the king so he’s got to go.  Unfortunately, Tony is good at finding idols and that makes him dangerous so we got to split the votes.”

To do that, Hali pointed out they needed to have two more votes which had to come from Caleb and Malcolm.

Hali was the one that made the pitch to the guys, saying they had to act before Tony started racking up the idols.  She added that Tony and Aubry were thick as thieves.  When Tony came over, Sandra told him that they were voting against Aubry.

Tony told us he was ready to do what he had to do to stay in the game but he knew that losing Aubry, he would be giving control, if the game, to Sandra.  He still wanted to make a big move and get her out.

Caleb’s interview:  “Tony is right, Sandra has convinced everybody that Tony should go and now they are trying to get me to be a part of it but I don’t want to do that because when it comes to strong people, when you get rid of one, it exposes the others.  You send Tony home, it exposes me and Malcolm.  But looking at numbers on who will vote out Sandra, we’ve only got four so we need one more person.”

We often saw that taking out one strong person doesn’t expose the others. Take Panama or Redemption Island as examples:  When Bob and Matt were sent packing early in the game, it forced their tribes to rely even more on their strong guysIt’s also strange that the lack of finding a fifth would discourage the attempt at taking down Sandra because they knew her group was splitting their votes.  Four could have been enough.

Michaela’s name was suggested as someone who could flip back, Tony adding that Sandra wouldn’t see it coming.

Caleb’s interview:  “So Tony throws out: “Let’s try to flip Michaela” and it might just work because one thing about Michaela: she just hates to lose. So maybe she’ll be down with getting rid of the weakest link.”

Caleb talked to Michaela and Varner, telling them that voting out a strong player was stupid.

Why include Varner?  I think it’s another clue that it was Varner who did most of the legwork to keep Sandra safe.  He didn’t look exactly receptive to the idea of keeping Tony so he must have talked Michaela and got her to stay with the plan and then done the same with Malcolm and Caleb.

Michaela’s confessional:  “People who know me, know that “Lose” is not in my every day vernacular so to come out here and do it time and time again when it doesn’t have to happen, it doesn’t make sense.  I know that Tony’s a threat but he can help us win challenges but Sandra is useless in just about everything.”

You won’t be able to convince me that there is a difference between old-school Survivor and a supposed new-school Survivor until players start saying it isn’t about winning immunity.  Strangely, old-school Sandra is the only one here who seems to get it!

Varner’s interview:  “I’m in heaven!  Having two winners going after each other is Christmas and the best part of it is we get to decide which one is going home.”

He told Caleb that they were playing with fire.

Like Hali, Sandra knew that the guys could spell trouble.

Sandra’s interview:  “Tony has already been eating away at Caleb’s brain (so Tony’s on a very strict diet!) that’s why he’s got to go.  There is a chance that it goes south and I end up going home but let me tell you something:  Just because Tony won once, it doesn’t make him a king.  No one has a track record like me and we are going to put that into perspective tonight when Tony goes home.”

For a rare time, we had a commercial break before Tribal Council.  It gave sort of a cliff-hanger feel to Sandra’s confessional!  When Sandra mentioned that things could go south and she could be going home, we saw an image of Caleb and Michaela behind the smoke from the campfire and then the camera cut to a clear close-up image of Varner.  The symbol is that Caleb and Michaela were confused by the “fogs of war” while Varner saw clearlyIf anyone rallied the troops besides Sandra, it had to be Varner but he didn’t get any credit in the narrative.  Getting the last confessional of the episode for a second straight time, the editors gave all the credit to the Queen.  We’ll see if she truly is queen of this tribe when she faces the next close call.  Will Varner still be in her corner?

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Tribal Council

Jeff asked Tony about the back-to-back losses, saying it wasn’t the way to start a season of Survivor.

Even Probst is hanging on to the old-school strategy!

Tony said they didn’t give up and that they were all angry to lose that challenge.  He argued that they needed to stay strong in order to kick some ass in the next challenge.

That’s so old-school!  When was Cagayan?   Was it season 3 or 4?!  Actually even in Season 4 Ma’aramu sent Hunter home early and look who won?!

Malcolm chimed in saying they needed to keep the tribe strong adding that it was the most strategic thing to say.

Even though he was in Matsing, Malcolm doesn’t understand that it isn’t about winning immunity now that tribe swaps abound and especially when you have friends on the other side!  I hope he was only doing lip-service for Probst but he seemed earnest.

Michaela told Jeff that she was there because she was a strong physical player. And that it didn’t make sense to send strong physical players home right now.

Now Sandra was getting scared.  She added that the problem was putting the strong players in the right positions.

Troyzan said that the tribe would be 50% less paranoid if the vote went the way he thought it was going. Certain people put the others on edge by their crazy actions.

Jeff knew he was talking about Tony who said Troyzan and Sandra were the ones sneaking off at 4:00 in the morning.

Sandra said it was a two-second conversation that caused Tony to jump up and ask what they were talking about.

Varner was taking it all in, listening to the argument.

Sandra then said she wasn’t paranoid like Tony, that she was always calm…and then something flew into her hair!

What timing!

That bug was big and it made Sandra jump up while Michaela, who was sitting the farthest away, literally jumped out of her seat and seemed to race for a hiding spot.

Tony said that despite his reputation as a big liar, he wasn’t scamming anyone.

Varner, Caleb and Malcolm said they believed him, Malcolm adding that he loves Tony even if before the game he thought he wouldn’t.

Asked what he wanted to do, Varner took a deep breath and said:  “We are a round hole and it’s time to get rid of our square peg.”

Asked what he thought that meant, Tony said he wasn’t too sure so Sandra answered for him:  “He hopes he’s not the square peg.”

Everyone except Tony laughed at that.

It was time to vote.

We saw Sandra voting against Aubry saying:  “You are not going home but I have to cast this vote just in case.”  She added that Tony was going home so that the queen could stay queen.

Tony was voted out 7-2 with Malcolm, Caleb and Aubry all voting against him while he voted with Sandra against Aubry.

Wow!!

When he retrieved his torch, Tony said:  “Sheep being led to the slaughter!  Good job, Sandra!”

Like always, Sandra could also get loud:  “That’s what you get for plotting against me!  That’s what you get and the queen stays queen!”

Turning to the tribe, Tony said: “You guys are suckers if you let that happen.”

Sandra went on:  “That’s what you get.  Take your ass home.”

Varner and Troyzan really enjoyed that exchange.

When Tony started the walk of shame, Sandra delivered her parting shot:  “Bye, Tony!  Say ‘Hi!’ to Ciera for me!”

The camera angle was just perfect because it showed Tony in the forefront walking in shadows while the only player clearly seen in the distant lights of Tribal Council was Sandra.

After that, Jeff sent them back to camp saying: “It’s interesting that both votes have been decided by group think which means it’s only a matter of time until the finger is pointed at you.”

Hali was the one that felt the threat, telling Jeff that he knew how to spread paranoia.

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The Story

I’m sure you noticed but I used two quotes from Sandra as the themes of each episode.  I intend to continue doing this for as long as Sandra remains in the game.  The only time I did something like this was when I used the titles of the 13 chapters in the “Art of War” as main themes for each episode of Survivor: China.  It was a lot of fun to determine which chapter fit best with what we had just seen without repeating any of them.  Quotes from Sandra could be even more interesting so we’ll see where that takes us.

For a season of returning players, there were a lot of unknowns in these episodes.  Production always tries to hide the pre-game alliances but we know that no one trusted Ciera and Tony so all the talks about targeting Ciera because she was throwing out names and working with Tony to keep the tribe strong served mostly as excuses.  Similarly, it’s hard to imagine that Cirie waited 8 years to talk with Ozzy about the Micronesia blindside.  Of course, what they said outside the game still had to be confirmed once they saw they were on the same tribe, but it’s not hard to imagine that there was much more going on than what we saw.  There is also the baggage between Cirie and JT that was barely mentioned.

This second episode was one of the better ones we’ve seen.  More often than not, the second episode is one of the weakest of any season.  Think of Gabon where the only memorable moment came when Gillian told us about elephant dung.  Australia and Vanuatu still have my two all-time favorite second episodes but Tony’s demise and Sandra’s quotes put this one right up there.  The episode also set up some long range questions:  Is Zeke going to make big moves or is he going to be exposed by Sarah?  Will these suckers let Sandra reign or will they overthrow her?  Is Cirie doomed or will she overcome all odds once again?

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The Characters

Uncertain Ground – These players haven’t found a good foothold in the game yet.

Tai:  The chickens’ guardian angel finds himself in the middle of the tribe’s two factions.  He likes Cirie and he helped her see that she had an uphill battle to wage despite Ozzy’s reassurances.  JT laid out Tai’s main problem:  Is he there to win the million?  I don’t think he has what it takes.

Cirie:  Despite ranking her here, I think Cirie could very well take the next step and win this game.  All but one of Nuku’s scenes served to place her in danger.  We saw players coming together and setting their sights clearly on getting her out but Nuku, in this form, will never go to Tribal Council.  It’s a great way to start an underdog story but there is such a long way to go that it could also be a way to pay homage to a great player who didn’t really have a chance.  We’ll see if she wins the Swap lottery and how she navigates her way.  I wouldn’t sell her short just yet.

Unknown Future – These players have been exposed

Aubry:  Tying her boat to Tony’s really put Aubry in a bad spot.  She was forced to vote against her shield and she received votes in the process.  She thought she was a threat but I don’t think anyone felt that way about her.  Yes, she showed she could scheme but outwitting people like Scot, Julia and Jason wasn’t exactly the game’s highest achievement.  She would have been well-served to go with the flow from the start, hang around with Hali and watch the fireworks instead of trying to use Tony.  She got badly burned but the swap could be her lifeline.

Varner:  He had two great episodes and things went his way on both occasions.  I suspect that it was Varner who assembled the army that saved Sandra and I don’t think he’d necessarily put his soldiers to her service again but Jeff exposed his weakness:  At 50, he isn’t in the greatest shape of his life and everyone could see it.  I think one tribe will vote him out in order to win challenges.

Sandra:  She had a couple of marvelous episodes and she showed why so many viewers simply love her.  The way she can avoid becoming a target despite that loud mouth is really unique in the history of the show but she was clearly exposed after this vote.  If she truly has an army at her beck and call as Malcolm feared then maybe she could go for a third title, but I think some of her soldiers weren’t too committed to her cause.  Everyone should play this game like a mercenary and Varner seems to be that type of player.  If the swap keeps Sandra with Hali and Troyzan then she may have a chance but what happens if she winds up with Aubry, Caleb and Malcolm?  She’d show us that she is truly the Survivor Queen if she makes it to day 39 again!

Unknown Quantities – These players are just going with the flow for now

Brad:  Doing what Monica would do got him in the main alliance of Nuku so it’s already worked better for him than it did for her on her first try.  He seems much less confrontational this time and since players still unbelievably play to keep their tribe’s strong, Brad should prosper until he reaches the merger.  Then, doing what Monica would do won’t help!

Debbie:  She received a lot of content for being on a tribe that didn’t go to Tribal Council but all of it was to disparage her fellow tribemates, players who are much more liked by the audience than her.  First, she told us that Tai was going to create problems if they wanted to eat the chickens and then she said that Cirie was feeding her BS.  When it comes to analyzing her own game, Debbie constantly talks about being underrated but what I hear is that she overrates her own abilities to unbelievable levels.  A gymnast?  Because she can hang from a tree?  Please don’t make me laugh.  A Triple Crown winner?  A dunce cap would fit better on her head than a crown.  A military strategist?  If that’s really how the military operates then America is in more danger than we think!

Michaela:  While her challenge performances played a role, I think that is was her mouth that got her this invitation and she hasn’t learned to control it.  I doubt very much that Michaela was happy with the second vote, but she went along just like she went along with the Mari vote in her first season.   I suspect that she will soon want to make decisions but that no one will want to watch her playing with rocks.

Hali:  She seemed to be completely loyal to Sandra.  When Tony didn’t come to her, Hali simply sided against him.  Her intervention when it came time to rally Caleb was nice so she does have the skills to play the game but I don’t think she will thrive if she gets separated from Sandra.  Will she forget that loose lips sink ships?  It would be a funny turnaround if her own words get her in trouble.

Troyzan:  Sandra’s other close ally, he was the first to talk to her about eliminating Tony.  Troyzan and Varner were in identical positions in these two episodes but their content was totally different.  Troyzan was front and center in his desire to see Tony go so he practically disappeared when it was time to blur the picture after Mana’s second immunity loss.  At least he is less arrogant than during the latter stages of One World but he was rather calm at the start of that season also.  We’ll have to see how Troyzan handles the pressure this time around.

Caleb:  With his first option failing, Caleb rallied to the majority so I don’t think anyone will hold his closeness to Tony against him.  I think he’ll continue to be a useful pawn in someone else’s game but can he play it to his advantage?  I doubt it.

JT:  While Mana was pitting its two winners against each other, no one talked about targeting JT in Nuku.  He’s got a good deal with Ozzy and that should tie him in to Sierra and Brad but that alliance will soon be split.  How will the swap affect JT?

Smooth Sailing – These Players are the top contenders.

Sierra:  Like others in Nuku, she disappeared once she established her position in the alliance against Cirie and we may have seen her only because she wound up with the “Legacy Advantage” but I liked the little we saw of Sierra.  Her alliance talks with Brad and Ozzy were expertly constructed so she should be able to do the same in her next tribe.  I think Sierra will have the opportunity to use her advantage.

Ozzy:  He gave his tribe a huge advantage when he got the toolkit.  He also was a key performer in both immunity challenges so I expect these players will keep him until the merger.  A lot of people wanted to work with Ozzy and that should serve him well going forward.  Most of his interventions centered around Cirie so it will be interesting to see how his character is developed when those two are separated.

Zeke:  He had some good moments despite the small amount of time spent in Nuku.  The others seemed to like Zeke even if they didn’t know him before the start of the season but it will be important to see what happens when it comes time to decide on a vote.  Will he be once again left on Dumbass Island like he was at the start of Millennials versus Gen X or will he be able to scheme with the majority?  I have the feeling that Zeke will go with the flow for a long time but then he will become too eager to make a move and he will pay for it.

Sarah:  If Zeke does act too rashly, I suspect that Sarah will be there to make him pay.  The one who wants to play like a “criminal”, which means she’d become a “corrupt” cop, has given me the impression that she will do much better than in her original season but will fall short when the jury doesn’t reward her new type of game. Already, she has outlasted her nemesis so that’s a small victory.  It will be interesting to see her reaction when Jeff says: “Nuku getting their first look at the new Mana; Tony voted out last night”.  If she shows the same restraint that Boston Rob showed when he learned of Russell’s demise in South Pacific then I will have to reassess her chances but now she looks like an unhappy finalist.

Malcolm:  Malcolm played this first week of the game brilliantly.  For one thing, he never appeared to be as close to Tony as Caleb and Aubry.  His interviews also had some great content that could lead him to victory.  He first reminded us that he can make big, flashy moves but that it was more important to get a good foothold in the game.  Then he did just that when he said: “Strategically, for my game, I am where I want to be.  Everyone is talking to me” and finally, he got a bit of an underdog story when, after the challenge loss, he said:  “We need to keep the strong people who are good at challenges around as long as possible or else we’re doomed.” We also had some editing hints that he could be the winner from the image of a solo male player holding a torch in victory during the introduction and the use of the Caramoan Tarsier to picture a predator.  The only thing I didn’t like about Malcolm’s content was his rather thin presence during the two Tribal Councils.   His interventions lacked substance but maybe it was intentional on his part rather than an editing choice.

Andrea:  I think many will be surprised that I put her here.  It will likely be said that I put too much importance on her sole confessional during these two hours but it has to be said that her confessional was really well placed:  Jeff had just said:  “For one of you, this is the beginning of a million dollar adventure.  Out of all of those, the one that replied was Andrea who said: “It’s Survivor: Game Changers so you can’t just sit around and hope to make it to the end.  The stakes have been raised.  This is going to be an epic season.  So, game on!”  For those first 6 days, we didn’t see Andrea playing the game at all so it figures it will get epic once the big characters all eliminate each other.

Of course, there is also the Tarsier imagery that works even more for her than for Malcolm.  While she proved she can handle herself well in certain competitions, she is more like Cochran, a Survivor munchkin, than a giant physical player.

Most of all, though, was the “dog that didn’t bark” theory.  It wasn’t as bad as Tina who was completely ignored in Australia’s premiere but Andrea was the only Nuku member that we didn’t taking sides against Cirie.  We saw Sierra, Brad, Ozzy and JT aligning themselves and mentioning that Cirie was dangerous.  Then we had Cirie herself trying to find someone to play with her only to have Sarah, Zeke and Debbie giving us reasons to believe they would backstab her in a minute.  That leaves Andrea as the lone player not to take position in the fight against Cirie.  Maybe those two will come together on one of the new tribes but I suspect they will wind up in different tribes next week.  Maybe they will rejoin later on if Cirie survives or Andrea’s game will simply evolve without Cirie and she will have escaped the blame of targeting such a big fan favorite.

It’s still early, but I like Andrea’s chances.

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