Survivor: Cambodia

Episode 2 – Change Is Hard

The Recap

20 players voted in by America traveled to Cambodia. They have been given a second chance to change the way they played the first time and to finish what they started.

Tasha’s confessional: “I’m here to win a million dollars and when it’s all done, I will pray for forgiveness.”

At the TaKeo tribe, Abi was battling herself but the real battle was between two styles of play: old-school (Terry and Vytas serving as visual examples) and new-school (Spencer, Shirin with Varner).

The new school was all about strategy while the old school was about relationships and survival.

It was the veteran Varner who found himself stuck in the middle.

At the Bayon tribe, the strong men bonded together, but Stephen didn’t fit in and his tribe became suspicious that he was looking for a hidden immunity idol. (Old-school Kimmi mentioned Stephen’s idol search to the surprised new schooler, Kass).

In a Survivor first, Kelley found an idol hidden at the immunity challenge, but it was Joe who found success and it only got worse for TaKeo.

At Tribal Council, Varner had to decide which way to go.

Varner: “It’s my second chance; I don’t want to screw it up.”

In the end, Abi got four votes, but it was Vytas who was sent home (Varner’s pleased expression was shown to make sure we know which side he chose) leaving Terry, Wiglesworth, and Woo on the bottom.

This was a fairly straightforward recap: The old-school versus new-school theme was repeated so maybe Kass’ surprise reaction that someone could be looking for an idol is something we should file for future reference: Kimmi had to be the one telling her that someone could be searching for an idol when you’d expect it to be the other way around. While the “old school” term is somewhat pejorative, we have to remember that old school was primarily about survival skills because they really mattered back then. We should remember that the players started thinking earlier about the social game when they started having it easy. Fiji really showed the difference: The Ravu tribe members needed to think about their own survival while in Moto they could take it easy. Most of the first seasons were more like the Have-Nots while at one point, probably around Cook Islands, the tribes got so many supplies that they could start playing earlier.

Getting back to this season, Jeff Varner’s role was underlined as well as his conflict between both schools. This made it sound like a long-term story. The replay of Tasha’s confessional is also something we have to note. When Probst mentioned that the players were given a second chance to change the way they played the first time and to finish what they started, we had a close up of 4 players: Varner, Keith, Ciera and Kelley. They were all shown during the walk through the temple grounds. Was that a hint pointing to our Final 4? We will have to file that for now and remember this if these four ever wind up together.    

The episode started with an image of the temple whose structure seemed to be replicated by the cloud formation over TaKeo.

A Temple in the Clouds

A Temple in the Clouds

To me, this was another sign that the winner’s story will be shown to follow, thematically, the teachings of Buddhism. It was a nice visual and could have been shown only for that reason, but it was a very powerful symbol, something we have to consider.

At its center, Buddhism has 4 Noble Truths that tell us the nature and origin of suffering and the path to end it. The path to end suffering requires wisdom, concentration, and ethical conduct. Let’s see how this applies to our story.

This episode could have been titled:

Change is Hard.

The episode started with Terry making fire with the flint that the tribe had just received.

Wiglesworth’s confessional: “Tribal Council was devastating. I didn’t expect Varner to flip. It kind of sucks to be on the bottom. It was not how I wanted to start this second chance. My alliance needs to get their crap together. Shirin and Spencer set the pace: Forming alliances and scheming. We got to start defending ourselves or we’re done here.”

In season one, Kelly always knew which way the vote was going. The only times she didn’t vote with the majority were when she wanted to express her individuality. This season is quite a change for her. Can she change along with it? That is the main question regarding Kelly’s prospects.

Wentworth gave us a confessional: “Yesterday, we went from the challenge straight to Tribal Council and so I need to find some time to read my idol, which I have been holding on to. I don’t even know what it looks like; I don’t know what the clue says… This second chance season is already insane, so I’m really glad to have a little bit of security. It’s a beautiful thing. I am so excited. Playing a second time, having a second chance; I just want to do everything that I didn’t do the first time. I want to be aggressive and I want to be a player. It’s really important to me. It’s a second chance: Go big or go home!”

Villians Have More Fun

   Villains Have More Fun

I'll Catch You Soon

I’ll Catch You Soon

Before the next scene, we saw a bird holding an insect in its beak. The angle of the bird’s head was identical to the angle  of Varner’s head as he listened to Spencer.

Talking to Varner, Shirin and Kelley, Spencer was saying that they had a good group. Varner asked for the next target and Spencer said it simply should be one of the three which was fine with the veteran.

Spencer’s interview: “After Vytas went home, there was definitely a sense that the new school got the better of the old school on the first vote. Terry, Wiglesworth, and Woo missed the boat.”

Varner asked the group if his vote showed them his loyalty. The new schoolers all said yes.

Varner in confessional: “Spencer and Shirin are quite comfortable, but I’m not so sure they should be as comfortable as they are. My whole plan with voting out Vytas was to teach the old schoolers to play this game finally and to set the pace to get rid of Shirin and Spencer. They are playing way too hard, strategy-wise. I want to get one of them out of the mix.”

Taking a walk in the woods with Terry, Varner told him that he didn’t think Abi was the right one to go, that it wasn’t time for Abi because she was easy. He added: “This game is moving like lightning; Terry and all of these threats have got to go. They can’t be like names in passing. That’s old-school. This is a new game and I don’t want us to look like we don’t know what we’re doing. I want to vote out Spencer or Shirin. Those two are playing. They got to go. If I’m going to the end with a group, I am going with you all.”

Varner gave another interview (It was in a different location and he hadn’t yet torn off the sleeves of his purple shirt): “That vote last night was a wake-up call: Get off your ass and play this game. This is not 2001.”

Varner is making an effort to improve which is part of Samadhi: concentration. He analyzed the situation as it really is, showing Prajna: wisdom. Those are two of the three higher trainings that lead to the path to end suffering, the other being Sila: ethical conduct.

Terry gave us a confessional: “I left Tribal Council feeling like crap, but Varner is hitting the beach hard and playing the game. Survivor has changed. My second chance includes Terry Dietz having to play a social game or I will see my butt voted out.”

The scene ended with the two guys hugging and Varner turning to look around: “I’m looking for a spy shack!”

This last segment showed us that these two veterans have kept up with the events of the last seasons, so they know how the game has evolved. Will they be able to truly change when they are confronted with new tribes? They were both on seasons that didn’t have tribe swaps, so the next episode will be a major hurdle for them.

After the Introduction, we were in Bayon on Day 4:

Joe’s confessional: “I want to have fun out here; I want to do stuff. No one likes sleeping on the bamboo so I said: Yeah, I think I’m going to make a hammock. The last time I played, I was the biggest threat no questions asked so, coming into this season, it’s nice being in a role where I feel I am providing a service. I want to be someone that people need and want around.”

The music was very upbeat and light, something we’d expect on a tribe that can sit back and enjoy a nice sunny day. Bayon’s camp was already starting to look like Moto, the tribe that had everything in Fiji. Imagine next week after Joe gets that toolkit…

Ciera was seen serving fried mangoes to the tribe.

Stephen’s confessional: “It’s crazy to be in a tribe with Joe because he’s Survivor MacGyver. He’s always building a hammock or going fishing. Joe is too good for his own self. He’s too much of the golden boy, beautiful: a threat. Joe is the guy that is perfect at the beginning; he wins all the challenges and builds the shelter and then you slit his neck right when you get to the merge.”

As if practicing what he would do to Joe, we saw Stephen chopping a coconut.

The music got slightly more dramatic when Stephen started talking about Joe. There will probably be a showdown between the two and I have a feeling that Joe will come out on top because Stephen is talking about a post-merge move. His time may run out before then.

TaKeo Day 4

Abi in confessional: “At Tribal Council, I got four votes. If it was me back in Survivor: Philippines, I would have exploded, but I didn’t. You know, I’m working on it; I want to change. I just try to act like the new Abi that I want to be.”

Abi got in a confrontation with Peih-Gee, convinced that she had been talking about her.

Spencer’s interview: “Abi is an absolute drama queen. The fact that I have to trust someone like that to protect my interests is the most frightening thing that I’ve had to do in all of Survivor. I feel like I am in a good position, but Abi is the permanent liability. She will always be this bodyweight that you have to lug around. Abi is here to start fights and that is cancer for the tribe and definitely cancer for an alliance.”

Seeing Woo, Terry, and Varner talking on the beach, Abi asked if she should walk to them to interrupt their conversation. When Spencer said: “Why not?”, she got up saying: “I’ll just be annoying.”

Varner’s confessional: “Abi is our own little Brazilian soap opera that we can turn on and watch whenever we want to and there are buttons that you can push to get to various levels of entertainment! I see Abi as someone that everybody hates which makes her somebody I know I can beat. She is the perfect tool to help me win one million dollars. Oh, my god! This is delicious! Who needs food when you got Abi.”

Abi must have interrupted many conversations because the one we just saw at the beach was spliced together with another conversation between Terry and Woo next to the shelter. Note that the last part of Varner’s confessional was also spliced in because he was wearing his tie in that part. This segment offers us a nice question about Abi moving forward. It was funny to hear Spencer call her a drama queen right before Varner said she was a Brazilian soap opera. They had the same view of her but diametrically opposite reactions: Spencer worried about it; Varner was amused by it. Was Spencer right? Is Abi a cancer for an alliance? If she is, then Varner and Terry may have made a fatal mistake by including her in their group; however, this was Spencer in his arrogant phase still, so it’s possible that he didn’t see that Abi can change…or that she can be replaced if needed!   Of course, this scene showed that Varner can be just as arrogant as Spencer but looks like he is keeping it for his confessionals.

Bayon Day 5

Andrew was telling the story about the way he met his wife, the most gorgeous brunette he had ever seen. That story touched them all.

Kass gave us her reaction in an interview: “My last season, my fellow cast members were horrible. This time, some of these people are great people, so if they make me a better person and a better player, I’ll take it. I think you have to have feelings in this game and that was a fault in my prior game: I was assuming everyone had compartmentalized this and we were going to play poker and someone was going to win, and I realized that not everyone behaves in that manner out here. We’re real people and I’m going to be a real person throughout this.”

Jeremy had also been affected by Andrew’s story so he took a walk alone out of camp.

Jeremy’s confessional: “I’m trying to have fun and be all business, but Savage bringing up that story with his wife…It touches you, you know. My wife is pregnant (Congratulations ,Val!) and I want to see her stomach; I want to be there to see it grow. But I’m not telling anybody. I got so much riding on me anyway. I know they are going to come after me as a physical threat and you’re going to add on that my wife is pregnant? No one is going to want to take me to the end. I got to control this a little bit. Val knows how much this means to me and to her. She is the reason why I am doing this again.”

Back in the shelter, someone asked about Jeremy. Stephen wondered out loud if Jeremy was out looking for an idol.

Andrew in confessional: “Here’s the thing about Stephen: His first reaction was that Jeremy was looking for an idol as opposed to Jeremy has a wonderful wife and kids, so maybe my story affected him and he needed some private time. That just tells me that Fishbach is playing the game 24/7 and all he cares about is that idol. It’s all about the game and no emotions. Fishbach is kind of lacking in some of the things that really mean everything to me and my tribe: Morals, values, loyalty, dignity, courage. So, whether I like the guy or not, his time out here, if it is up to me, is going to be limited.”

While we didn’t get to see much of Bayon, this segment gave us an indication about some players’ ability to change. Kass’s confessional tells us that she wants that change and it would certainly give her a better chance of winning if she was seen as a real, good person; however, will the others still perceive her as someone that is simply playing the game, still wanting to cause chaos? We haven’t heard her talking to the others enough to answer that question.

It seems that Jeremy can’t change. While his alliance gives him a better shield than in San Juan del Sur, he is still thinking too much about Val. The timing of coming back during her pregnancy doesn’t help but if we don’t see him focusing more on the game, then he doesn’t have a chance.

For Stephen, the scene wasn’t very positive. For someone who spent time away from the shelter to look for an idol, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to bring up the idea that others doing the same thing could be looking for idols.

Andrew’s latest confessional connected him with the theme of Buddhism. He showed Sila when he talked about his values. The game of Survivor is amoral, but the people playing it rarely put their morals away. It’s something that a smart player needs to consider and Andrew certainly had the right speech to connect with the people of his tribe, especially the women who really appreciated his romantic side.

TaKeo Night 5

While Abi was out by the beach, Peih-Gee and Shirin were talking about her. Abi overheard and confronted them.

Shirin told us about their fight in confessional, saying that it upset her, so she walked away.

Peih-Gee in confessional: “Of course, I was a little embarrassed to have been caught talking about somebody behind their back, but everybody is fed up with her. She doesn’t have a single friend on this island.”

Going back to the shelter, Peih-Gee told everyone that it felt good to have it out with Abi. Everyone laughed and didn’t seem to mind that Abi heard them.

While Shirin will immediately feel the consequences of this fight, it doesn’t reflect well on Peih-Gee either.  

Abi’s confessional: “Everyone that I was aligned with is laughing at me now. I feel like Shirin didn’t have my back. The reason why I wanted to work with her was because she felt like nobody had her back on her season. I just feel really weird right now. It hurts and I feel alone.”

Terry’s confessional: “Abi goes off to the beach; the eight of us are in the shelter and she’s getting laughed at by her people and no one stood up for her. I know she’s annoying and she’s an emotional train wreck but to leave another human being out there, floundering, that’s just wrong.” Terry and Abi had a talk by the ocean. Terry told her that Shirin and Spencer are only out for themselves. His confessional continued: “Something started to really click between me and Abi! Not only personal-wise because we made that connection but strategic-wise in the talking we were doing there. The opportunity sprang from just being thoughtful about somebody. Jeff lit a little fire under my ass. I knew I had to come to the beach with a social game, and I was a little slow on the uptake at first, but it’s starting to come together.”

Speaking of Varner, did anyone notice that he was sleeping just a few feet away?

Varner Just Hanging Around

Varner Just Hanging Around

 I wonder if he participated in that conversation. Maybe he encouraged it.  The next scene certainly suggests it. For Terry, we see  that he is changing  his ways thinking more about the social aspects  of the game. In Panama,  his decisions were all based on numbers, and Sally was saved only  because he thought she would be more  helpful to win challenges than Ruth Marie.   


TaKeo Day 6

The images were still in black and white.

Jeff was just getting up when Abi came to join him. He asked her if she had a good talk with Terry. He added: “Isn’t he a nice man? I’m thinking of aligning with him.” Abi agreed. Jeff told Abi that he thought she was fabulous. She was very thankful.

That was nice manipulation considering Jeff had already decided to align with both!

Abi’s confessional: “That was music to my ears. After my whole alliance is making me feel like a fool and now I feel so good that people actually want to work with me and they find me a joy. Terry saw the crack and he jumped right on it. My old alliance will definitely regret not coming to me when I needed them the most.”

Varner told her the plan to vote against Shirin and Spencer.   The two shook on it.

The Immunity Challenge

As we expected, Ciera’s reaction was the first shown when Jeff told them that TaKeo had eliminated Vytas, but it was fun to see that the cameras also turned to Stephen. His “Oh, my god!” was almost as if we had a very short version of Stephen’s “Know-It-All” podcast one week after the fact! We know that Bayon must have spent hours wondering about the vote (Why doesn’t Survivor show us any of that footage? I think it would be extremely interesting to see), so Stephen’s reaction told us that he and his tribe were totally surprised by that outcome, maybe even shocked to see TaKeo playing hardball so quickly.

Ciera sat out for Bayon.

She is turning into the tribe’s waitress and cheerleader. Monica and Kass could have sat this one out, so maybe it’s telling us that Bayon doesn’t respect Ciera’s abilities.

The tribes were neck-and-neck until they got to the crates where Bayon took the lead.

The first two puzzle makers for Bayon were Kass and Kimmi. TaKeo countered with “I’m good at Sudoku” Peih-Gee and Kelley Wentworth. Despite a lot of help from their tribemates, neither team made much progress. Spencer took over for Kelley while Joe and Jeremy took over for Kimmi and Kass. Seeing that, Shirin took Peih-Gee’s place. Panic was setting in. Varner even said that this was a nightmare.

Even if TaKeo thought they had finished first, MacGyver won another challenge for Bayon.

Now, considering the upcoming Tribal Swap, I wonder if Joe will have time to enjoy the new shelter he will be building!

As the tribe was heading back to camp, Varner had a confessional: “That challenge was a nightmare and we ended up losing, but it didn’t dawn on me until just now that Spencer and Shirin had their fate in their own hands and they lost it. Now, one of those two is going home tonight. How poetic?”

I’ve often said that this spot can be called the “kiss-of death” confessional, especially when the person giving it his very confident about the outcome of the vote. There have been exceptions, however, and sometimes this spot is reserved for the season’s mastermind. Since we know that Varner was right, then that could mean that he is in for the long-term.


The defeated tribe returned to camp, Terry telling everyone that they did their best.

Spencer’s confessional: “Second challenge in and we are already getting our asses kicked. I am very happy to have control of the game with Shirin. I relate to Shirin more than anyone else out here. My old Survivor experience of being on the bottom and suffering and not having anyone I can play with and trust is gone.”

Spencer thought he had already reached Nirvana! Nevermind, Spencer…

Varner’s confessional: “My whole thing is to get rid of the threats as soon as you can. Spencer is a huge strategic threat. That kid is the smartest young man I have ever met in my entire life. Shirin is all of that plus she is emotional. She knows how to talk to you like she’s your best friend. She’s the salesperson. They are two heads on one snake, so it doesn’t matter which one we chop off.”

He asked Peih-Gee and Kelly if they would vote out Shirin or Spencer. Peih-Gee said she wanted to go where the numbers were.

Peih-Gee’s interview: “I wanted to vote out Abi-Maria, but I am siding with the larger majority which seems to be everyone except for Shirin and Spencer. I think they are both a little bit dangerous and I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the votes.”

Kelley Wentworth and Jeff agreed that their tribe was a mess. He told her about Abi’s loyalty to Terry. Counting the numbers, Kelley realized that it included… “everyone but Shirin and Spencer” interjected Varner. Kelley quickly told him she was on board, adding that he wouldn’t see her talking to Shirin and Spencer all day.

Kelley’s confessional: “It’s very hard for me thinking of voting for Shirin or Spencer because those are my original allies. Unfortunately, things shifted over the course of 24 hours and now I find myself in a different alliance which I don’t necessarily like, but I have to go with the flow. So Shirin and Spencer are in deep crap.”

This confessional shows that Kelley can adapt.

Taking a walk along the beach with Abi, Shirin gave us a confessional: “Even though we lost the immunity challenge, I feel really good going forward because we’ve got me, Spencer, Kelley, Jeff Varner but I want to make sure that Abi still feels good. She is always all over the place.”

The conversation she had with Abi didn’t go as well as Shirin expected. Abi told her directly that she wasn’t with her anymore and neither were Varner and Kelley.

The drums sounded like a heart pounding underlining the tension in this scene.

Abi in confessional: “I am so sorry. I tried Shirin; I tried having your back, but if you (bleep) me, you are dead.”

In confessional, Shirin told us that she should be riding high but that, somehow, someway, she ended up in the minority.

The little monkey listened to Shirin telling Spencer that they were screwed because Varner and Abi were voting with the old-school players.

Spencer’s confessional: “Right now, I am swinging like a pendulum between frustration and exasperation. One minute ago, I was in a perfectly fine position and now nothing is as high a priority as keeping myself safe. I just have to make it a priority to make it three more days.”

Shirin and Spencer tried to recruit Woo, telling him that he would be the first to go if he stuck with the old school. Woo answered that the majority rules and that this was their very first conversation.

Woo’s confessional: “All of a sudden, Spencer and Shirin have the audacity to think that I’m going to drop my tribe and jump in with them.”

Shirin told us that her only option was voting for Spencer.

Spencer’s confessional: “My situation is getting bleaker and bleaker. This was going to be my second chance and I wanted to have a very different experience, but I am being brought back hard to my first experience where everything starts going really, really well and all of a sudden it collapses in front of me. Every other person except Shirin and me is in the numbers against us. Shirin has been my only solid person, and now I feel like there is no move I can make other than screwing over the one person that I wanted to play with.”

For someone that wanted to have more conversations in the first three days than he had during his whole first season, I was surprised to hear that he didn’t even talk to Woo! Of course, now he does have those three more days and a tribal swap that can completely alter his future. He may be able to change and his tears finally showed us some humility.

Is Spencer Applauding Woo and the Man behind him?

Is Spencer Applauding Woo and the Man behind Him?

 What I found most interesting is that the camera work made it look  like Spencer was applauding Woo and the man behind him, the one  that changed the vote, Varner. Spencer was only getting the dust out  of his shoes, but the effect was quite noticeable.

 Tribal Council

Asked about the vibe of the tribe, Varner said they were all exhausted: “That  was an intense challenge.”

Spencer told Jeff that players suffer from amnesia, remembering only the fun parts of the game, forgetting that this is going to kick their ass.

Shirin said she didn’t remember it being awesome. “I had a really hard time the first time and I’m starting to have a rough time the second time around.” She told Jeff about the fights and that she thought she was on the bottom.

Kelley told Jeff that the fight was between Abi and Peih-Gee.

Abi explained that she overheard Shirin and Peih-Gee talking about her, making her feel betrayed. She added: “I am very gracious towards Terry. He was the only one that rescued me when I was feeling very lonely when I felt I was going to be voted out tonight unanimously.”

Probst noted the irony about Terry coming to her rescue just like Mike had come to Shirin’s rescue last season.

Shirin said she should have gone to Abi to fix it.

Terry noted that he had been on the bottom but that he made a connection with Abi.

Spencer was also concerned for his safety. He said he was in trouble because he talked too much about strategy and didn’t get to know everyone.

Asked if the vote was indeed between Shirin and Spencer, Varner simply said: “Yes.”

Spencer vowed to everyone individually that he would make changes if he were allowed to stay. He turned directly to Varner at the end of his plea, and Varner looked glad to hear it.

Probst noted another ironic situation: Spencer had said very similar words when his fate in the game rested with Tasha and Kass. His philosophical question led Shirin to say: “Change is hard…It doesn’t mean that you are going to change overnight.” She asked her tribe to give her a third chance.

It was time to vote.

Terry, Shirin, Abi, and Kelley voted for Spencer while Kelly, Peih-Gee, Varner, Spencer, and Woo voted for Shirin.

Note that by splitting the votes, the old-school players left the door open for Spencer and Shirin to go after Abi with only two more votes. If Kelley and Peih-Gee had stayed with them, they could have kept control of the game. Contrary to even many new-school players, this alliance’s resolve forced Shirin and Spencer to vote against each other, removing the risks of dividing the votes.

Before leaving, Shirin told Spencer to “Give ‘em hell.”

Turning once more in the direction of Varner and Terry, Spencer said: “I meant every word I said. Thank you, guys.” It was Varner who was shown nodding in response.

After snuffing Shirin’s torch, Jeff said: “This season offers a second chance to change what didn’t work the first time, but if you don’t change, history is destined to repeat itself.”

The Story

For this episode, the attention was almost exclusively on TaKeo. The dynamics changed so quickly during this three-day cycle that the editors had to spend a lot of time on this tribe just to show it all. That means we can’t say that TaKeo is the tribe of interest, that its players will be there at the end game, but it seems likely.

In the first episode, we said that there were four themes, namely:

  • The players will have to follow the teachings of Buddhism.
  • The players will have to find a way to put an end to their nightmares.
  • The game comes down to old-school ethics versus new-school tactics.
  • Villains have more fun.

We find that the first three can all be interpreted by the influence of Buddhism on the edit. The images of the temple at the start of the episode that was reflected in the cloud formation suggest that the winner will be presented as someone going on a quest to reach Survivor’s Nirvana: Being Sole Survivor.

Putting an end to the nightmares is another way of saying that the players have to find a way to put an end to their sufferings. For some, it has been practically a lifelong quest to find happiness in this game. The discussion at Tribal Council about the amnesia that the players have about all the hardships shows that the need to rewrite the end of their story is very powerful.

In Buddhism, the “Middle Way” is very important because it leads to enlightenment. The “Middle Way” is a path between the extremes which suggests we should be looking for someone that combines both new and old school like we mentioned after the first episode. The winner will probably not be shown as being too attached to either way of playing, but someone that can combine the two. Their conduct should combine Prajna (wisdom), Sila (ethical conduct) and Samadhi (making an effort to improve).

As for villains having more fun, it seems in contradiction to the need to have morals, an ethical conduct, and using harmless methods. The Survivor format forces the villains to be accepted by the jury. Hatch, Tina, Chris, Todd, Kim, Natalie and Tony were big manipulators who had fun with this game while being villains in the eyes of some of their allies and even for viewers in some cases. Maybe that is the type of winner that we will have this time around.

It’s difficult to write an analysis when we know that a tribal swap is just around the corner. So much will depend on the structure of the new tribes and the new connections that the players will have to form. We also won’t know how much the new alliances will come into play over some that may have been forged before the game started. Still, we can take a look at the way the characters have been portrayed in the first two episodes and how they fit in the themes of the story.

The Characters

Nothing Has Changed – These players haven’t shown us that they can change:

Tasha, Ciera, Monica, Keith: These four were practically absent in this episode, so we can’t write anything more than what we said after the first episode. We will have to wait before we can see what they are doing with their second chance. At most, we can say that the replay of Tasha’s confessional during the summary of the first episode is noteworthy while Monica was chosen to participate in the challenge over Ciera which was important for someone who told us that she wants to show she can contribute.

Kimmi: She didn’t receive much more than the first four but in her case it may be an improvement. While we see that Abi can’t change, Kimmi hasn’t caused any trouble up to now. Her situation is helped by the two challenge wins and the luxurious shelter, but the old Kimmi would probably still have found a way to attract attention.   We are seeing a more relaxed Kimmi, but we still don’t know if she can play the game.

Jeremy: While the structure of his alliance puts him in a better situation if he makes it to the merge, we see that his methods and his thoughts haven’t changed. He still recruited allies very quickly and is hoping that nothing will mess it up while he can’t stop thinking about his wife. Jeremy seems incapable of making the effort to change and to concentrate on the goal

Joe: He’s probably never had to change a thing yet in his young life, so he is still playing the same game probably hoping things will change for the better by themselves. Survivor MacGyver is simply putting a bigger target on his back. Stephen is already targeting him, machete in hand! He may not have the numbers to go after Joe and he may never find them, but someone will.

Abi: The way she turned on Shirin reminded me a lot of her actions in the Philippines where she turned on RC. The big question about Abi comes from Spencer’s comment: Is she a cancer for her alliance? If so, maybe Terry and Varner will regret recruiting her. At least these two seem to understand her better than Spencer and Shirin. I’m not sure how far Abi will go or if she will be the downfall of her new allies and the tribe swap could put her in a tough situation once again, but she found a nice spot in TaKeo just like she had in Tandang.

Woo: Just like in Cagayan, Woo’s game changed for the better even if he didn’t have to do a single thing. The last time, Kass’ move gave his side the numbers while here Varner’s tactics and Abi’s change of heart put him in a nice spot. For Woo, the trouble is that we are still far from the merger and he won’t be able to coast from here on out like he did in Cagayan. It was bad for Spencer not to talk to Woo before he needed his vote, but the same could be said of Woo. Why didn’t HE try to make a connection with Spencer? It shows the limits of Woo’s social game.

Peih-Gee: Another puzzle and another failure for Miss Sudoku Peih-Gee! And this time she was trying to solve it! While she is in the middle of the story in TaKeo, we mostly hear from her when she has to explain what she did wrong. She was right to say that Abi also talked behind her back, but she should have known that Abi wouldn’t take it as well as she did, wouldn’t understand Survivor’s imposed discipline. Just like in Zhan Hu, Peih-Gee finds herself in the weaker tribe. China’s tribal swap gave her a fighting chance so we will have to see how she handles the upcoming switch.

Forced to Change

Stephen: By his own words, Stephen fell ass-backwards into an alliance during his first season. This time, the train left the station too quickly for him and he seems to have fallen ass-backwards on the tracks. Luckily for him, no train came to take Bayon to Tribal Council so he has time to get back on the platform and wait for another one. How will he play in his new tribe? He will have to move more quickly this time if he wants to make it to the merger.

Kelly: As a member of the Tagi 4, Kelly didn’t have to scramble during her first game, but she found herself quickly in trouble this time. Like Woo, we didn’t see her doing much to change the situation, but it’s easy to imagine that she was in Varner’s mind when he told Terry that he wanted to go to the end “with you all”. Now she has an opportunity to show us what she can do because the tribal swap will be totally new for her.

Spencer: It was refreshing to see some humility from Spencer, but it may have come too late. The switch will put him with players who still see him as an arrogant schemer, and they won’t have heard his promise. He could wind up right back on the hot seat.

Finding a Way to Change

Kass: For once, she likes the people around her. It was good to hear her sentiments about her fellow castaways, but that seems to signal the start of a redemption edit. If Kass likes these people, will she be able to create chaos? If not, what role does she have to play? Of course, the tribal swap may put her back with people she hates, so she still has time to go back to her old, doomed tactics.

Andrew: We heard more of his personal life in this episode than we probably did during his 8 episodes in Pearl Islands. His confessional was an example of Sila (ethical conduct) and how it can apply to Survivor. The game is amoral, but the players will almost always form alliances with people that they like. Rare are the players like Todd who can align with Jean-Robert and James, the ones that he called the trash that had to be taken out. Will it be enough for Andrew to get to the end? Telling us about his perfect life tells us that he may not want it bad enough to make the effort to reach the final goal.

Kelley: Contrary to last time, Kelley found a way to turn the situation around. She was right there next to Spencer and Shirin and a big part of the new-school alliance, but she found the right words to convince Varner that she could be trusted. She succeeded because they decided to split the votes between their two targets. Now she is in with the old-school players but she has all the weapons, the knowledge and the tactics of the new school. Kelley could be a very interesting player down the road. It was important for her story that they showed her going out of camp to look at her idol. We didn’t need to see it, but the scene served to show that she is ready to improve her game. Kelley’s portrayal puts her very high on the list of contenders.

Terry: No one showed more signs of change in this episode than Terry. Many viewers criticized his social game, but we heard both Abi and Varner say that he is a nice guy. His main problem comes from his reputation, however. We have already heard many comments about getting rid of threats and, before Mike last season, no one was a bigger threat than Terry in Panama. The tribal swap will be critical for him: He will need to have some old-school players on his new tribe and find the right words to get them to work with him.

Varner: Using what some view as new-school tactics, Varner flipped the game just like some other famous old-school players did way back when! With one vote, he flipped the alliance around much like Tina did in episode 4 of Australia or Rob did a few times in the Amazon. Varner could be seen to be playing too hard too fast, but we have often followed these master manipulators all the way through their seasons. Varner had already shown some of his manipulation skills during the Outback, but we saw them again in this episode when he sealed the alliance with Abi. I’m wondering if he even started the fight between her and Peih-Gee! He’d only have needed to tell Abi where she’d find Peih-Gee and Shirin.

It was interesting that Varner used the word nightmare twice to describe the latest challenge when it was the nightmare of the merge challenge that has haunted him all these years. His 15-year quest to find Survivor’s Nirvana puts him in line with the themes of this season. He actually used the word quest which is the perfect one to describe the path to enlightenment that is essential in Buddhism. Can he carry this momentum all the way to the end? It would be a fun ride.

Become a patron of RHAP