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 Characters and Their Stories: Week 2 – Leading the Sheep to Slaughter
Twenty of the biggest game changers in Survivor history were battling it out. (Malcolm seen in the last challenge).
The Mana tribe was on a losing streak.
Facing Tribal Council, it was a battle between Survivor royalty and only one could keep their crown.
At Tribal Council, nobility took a back seat as Sandra slayed her nemesis and kept her title.
Can Sandra keep her empire intact?
Leading the Sheep to Slaughter
We immediately went to the Swap.
I usually make my comments immediately after Jeff’s little summary of the previous episode but this unusual editing choice suggests that those first two episodes didn’t really matter. Everything was going to be reset by the new tribal division or so we were led to believe. One thing still counted though: Nuku was up by two players and another Mana was about to leave. Has the game really changed?
First, Jeff said: “Nuku getting their first look at the new Mana tribe: Tony voted out last night.”
After showing Tai’s surprise, the camera (and Andrea) turned to Sarah who had a smile when she said: “I can’t believe this.”
Well, Nuku only had to glance back while they were walking up to meet Jeff to see that Tony was gone because Mana was barely 20 feet behind on the same path to the challenge arena. Sometimes production is so lazy. We would have had more authentic reactions if Mana had remained hidden, only coming out of the jungle at the last minute.
When Jeff asked if they knew the game well enough to figure out what was about to happen, no one could answer him at first. Zeke finally had the answer: “We’re about to swap.”
Great. You get a cookie, Zeke! As for the rest of you? You really should pay more attention to the game if you want to win the million.
Sandra’s confessional: “I was leading the sheep to slaughter so I am in a good spot with Mana but now there’s a swap and I hope I am on the right side with the strongest people.”
As the upcoming challenge will prove, Sandra did have a decent swap (although she lost Hali and Troyzan, her closest allies) and she does have the strongest people but this confessional will soon take a whole new meaning.
Andrea was the first one shown being nervous about the swap. Sierra then said her heart was pounding and Cirie said hers was also. Michaela didn’t even look at the plate. Cirie hoped someone knew CPR because she was about to have a heart attack. JT also closed his eyes while Zeke, picking last, said the gods decided for him.
It’s funny that Cirie, who is arguably the savviest player out there, was heard expressing surprise at picking the green buff. The swap to three tribes should have been anticipated with 18 players left in the game.
For new tribes, we had in Nuku: Varner, JT, Sandra, Malcolm, Aubry and Michaela.
For Mana: Hali, Caleb, Debbie, Brad, Tai and Sierra.
And in the new yet unnamed Tribe: Troyzan, Ozzy, Sarah, Cirie Zeke and Andrea.
Looking at the new tribes, Jeff pointed out that Caleb and Hali were the only former Mana to stay in that camp. Tai was happy to be with Caleb and he got to kiss him on the cheek.
In Nuku, JT stood out as the only remaining Nuku in that camp. (Ozzy’s toolkit and all those rewards that the whole tribe fought for is now helping the former Mana tribe members). JT said they would be alright.
Jeff called the new Tribe Tavua and there Troyzan was the lone Mana in a school of Nuku. Troyzan said it was bad to be five against one but there had to be a silver lining somewhere.
This tribe was starting over but at least they’d have some supplies.
When Jeff detailed their predicament, the camera focused on Cirie, Troyzan and Andrea. Was it to suggest that those three will make the best of it or that they will suffer the most? Troyzan would soon find his silver lining so I think Cirie and Andrea will also flourish. When Jeff said that their advantage was in the knowledge that everything was still possible, three players had close ups: First Hali, then Ozzy and, once more Andrea at the end of his sentence. She was nodding in agreement so everything is still possible for these three, Andrea more than the others, I’d say.
Varner’s confessional: “With Game Changers, the game changes fast but whatever I’m dealt with, I’m going to make the best of it and it’s an exciting time I think. I love it: I’m ready to go.”
Indeed this swap is much better for Varner than the one he had in Second Chances. The numbers are to his advantage and he’s now in the luxury shelter instead of having to start from scratch. Having this spot for a confessional also is a good sign for his longevity. He says he is ready to go and there is no reason to think he won’t make the best of it.
Nuku Day 7
The music was subdued which didn’t match what we’d expect for this lucky tribe.
Malcolm’s confessional: “You walk into this Nuku camp after spending six, seven days at Mana where we didn’t get the chickens and we didn’t get the toolkit off the boat; it’s shocking. I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor. It’s the Survivor jackpot! It’s like going to a resort: Everything is already built, they got a bunch of food they didn’t take with them, the chickens are walking around free like they run the place. They got this awesome shelter and they’ve decorated. That’s how well it was going on in this tribe: They’ve taken the time to hang ornaments from the damn trees like we’re at some dinner parlor in Mexico.”
Is this confessional the equivalent of Boo’s at the start of the original Fiji where he said: “This is not Survival… it’s a Thrival” or is it more in line with Earl’s situation when, after suffering for a long time in Ravu, he finally got to enjoy some comfort but still kept his head in the game? It’s hard to say because Malcolm certainly didn’t suffer very long, the Survivor jackpot fell on his lap rather quickly. On the other hand, it can be said that both he and Varner have suffered a lot in this game over the years so maybe the Survivor gods won’t make them pay for enjoying some comfort.
Malcolm and Varner said they felt like they won a reward while JT said he wasn’t expecting to be swapped 5 to 1 but he’d take it.
His good nature and his skills could help him get in good with Varner and Malcolm.
JT’s confessional: “I feel the Survivor gods really let me down this moment. Five to one is about as bad as I can hope for. I mean, in all likelihood, I’m a sitting duck so at this point the only thing that could save me is an immunity idol so I have to do everything I can to stir things up here. In the back of my mind, I’m already thinking: If I can get them out snorkeling out there in the ocean, I can get back to camp and start looking for an idol.”
So, off we went into the beautiful blue ocean off the coast of Fiji where Varner was admiring the view, Michaela was snorkeling and Malcolm was already spear fishing.
JT’s confessional continued: “I get everyone on the raft I drag them out to sea a good half mile and we’re snorkeling a little bit. We started fishing and finally that opportunity presents itself when Malcolm bends the spear. So, I say: “Malcolm, I’ll go back and get the pliers so just enjoy the good time out here in the ocean. I’ll be right back.” With dramatic percussion instruments, we saw JT looking everywhere around camp while he said: “I know I have to go back soon but I got to look.”
By that time, everyone was starting to wonder what JT was doing.
Varner’s confessional: “We sat out there on that raft for a long time waiting for JT to come back. It doesn’t take that long; what is he doing? I’m thinking to myself: He’s looking for an idol! What a great way to get rid of the five people that might take you down. Brilliant!”
Malcolm even figured that JT was going through all their bags. Aubry agreed.
JT: “I’m looking everywhere. It’s not over until it’s over and I’m not giving up. Everybody knows that and they probably know I’m looking for idol right now but I took them out in the ocean as far as I could and I left the pliers on purpose so my job is to keep looking. It’s all I can do.”
Malcolm was laughing about being left out there. Varner added that JT was dangerous.
Varner’s confessional: “If JT is out looking for an idol, good for JT. It just doesn’t matter: We have the majority five to one so JT is screwed.”
Right then, we saw sharks swimming around making us think that things could indeed be bad for JT but he wasn’t the one out in the ocean! This extended, meaningless scene in Nuku is very good for its three main participants: JT, Malcolm and Varner. JT showed that he was very resourceful while Varner and Malcolm showed that they can’t be easily fooled. How will it play out in the end? What I found most interesting is that we didn’t see how this scene really ended: Did JT swim back out to the raft? Did the boat people make it to shore on their own? What was said when they got back together? I suspect this tribe will not be going to Tribal Council because they have great challenge players so all this could amount to nothing.
A light melody played on string instruments accompanied us to Mana
Brad was hard at work decorating the shelter to make it more like home.
Brad’s confessional: “This is my new home so I start thinking: Let’s make this house a home. I love antiquing and I like to decorate. Monica and I spend a lot of time redecorating our own house. I kind of relax while I’m doing that. It gives me something to think about. We’re here– meager supplies, meager food in an unbelievable game, difficult but I am having a lot of fun because it’s four-two so I’m thinking I’m in good shape. The four of us Nuku are going to stay together so it’s going to come down to either Hali or Caleb.”
Does it matter that we saw Hali throwing away food when Brad mentioned they had limited supplies? Maybe not a whole lot but it would have been better seeing her working or talking to people to save herself when Brad was mentioning her name as one of two targets. I think it is quite noticeable that Hali will not be shown making any tactical moves to save herself from the vote. She won’t be shown talking or scheming with anyone in this scene or during the scrambling portion of the episode after their challenge loss. For someone who was supposed to strike like a cobra, she didn’t do anything to get anyone on her side except argue with Caleb during Tribal Council.
Hali’s confessional: “We have to play it like we’re one big happy family, but Caleb and I, we’re at the bottom numbers-wise. Caleb and Tai could get back together and put a big target on their back so maybe I’m not the most obvious target.”
Talking to Brad, Tai said Caleb would help them stay strong so that they should trade Debbie for Caleb. Brad said Debbie would be more loyal than Hali and that Caleb could go after Debbie. Tai said they could do whatever they wanted. The two were on the same page.
Brad in confessional: “Seriously, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of Caleb first. (Right then, the image changed to Sierra and Caleb with Sierra saying very loudly: “What? Stop it.” The effect was unmistakable: Production used Sierra’s “what?” to tell us that going after Caleb first like Brad just said was idiotic. Then Brad and, by association, Tai are doomed.) Brad went on: “Caleb, Debbie and Tai played together on Survivor: Kaoh Rong and that’s a threat and I’m trying to bring Tai and Debbie closer to me than everybody else.”
At the end of Brad’s confessional, we heard a prolonged sliding sound played presumably on a trombone and it was like a braking sound effect. Just like Sierra’s “what?” it seemed to indicate that Brad’s plan won’t work out in the end.
Tai and Caleb talked by the ocean. Tai told Caleb that he talked to Brad and that it looked like Caleb would be safe because he could help with challenges.
In confessional, Caleb told us it felt good to be back with his friend Tai.
When Tai asked Caleb if he was close to anyone on the other tribe, Caleb said, without hesitation, Jeff and Malcolm.
It seems that I was right to say that Varner was the one that gathered the soldiers against Tony even if all the credit was given to Sandra. So, in the long run, that tells us that Sandra isn’t solidly in charge. Does it really matter for her type of game? Well, she shouldn’t be able to skate to the end this time so she would need an army on her side.
Tai’s confessional: “The plan is to vote out Hali or Caleb and I know I crossed the line because I told Caleb but I do want to play with Caleb because we had a relationship before, a pretty big relationship. But this is exactly what happened last time: I’m put in a position to betray my friends. If I protect my buddy, I have to betray Brad so I am weighing the risk. Either way, it’s going to hurt.”
Yes, Tai, I believe this game is going to hurt you again.
The new tribe was arriving in Tavua.
Troyzan said that he had been in a chaotic tribe so it was nice to have a fresh start.
That is another hint that the first two episodes won’t matter much in the long run.
Zeke’s interview: “We get up to camp and there’s nothing but fishing gear and a meager amount of rice, a pot and a machete. You know it’s congenial. We are trying to be nice to Troyzan, I’m sure he feels he’s on the outs because, you know, for all intents and purposes he is.”
Ozzy said they had more coconuts and palm fronds than the others and the shelter they’d have to build only needed to hold six so it wasn’t so bad.
Ozzy’s confessional: “We’ve got to start from the beginning and I’ve got to take the lead because I have a hundred and fifteen days on Survivor more or less. I am one of the veterans in this game. I’ve played this four times now. This is a chance to let my tribe know that I still got the skills and that they can’t get rid of me yet.”
A popping sound was heard at the end of Ozzy’s confessional suggesting a surprising outcome. Will Ozzy surprise us or with his tribe surprise him?
While Ozzy went to work, Cirie and Zeke talked about their situation, saying that they were safe. The two agreed they were good.
Cirie’s confessional: “I wasn’t on the right side of the numbers in the old Nuku tribe and I think Ozzy is still a little skittish of me but I’m trying to cultivate a relationship with him. So I need to take advantage of this new start. I’m hoping that it will help me later on down the line.”
Ozzy and Cirie talked briefly, saying they were feeling good about the numbers.
Ozzy’s confessional: “On the original Nuku Tribe I didn’t have a strong alliance with Cirie but here we need each other so this is a crucial time for me to build trust, and if we do, Troyzan could be an easy first one to go.”
We then saw Troyzan working on gathering wood with Andrea. He asked her if he had the plague. She said he didn’t.
Andrea’s confessional: “Troyzan is a cool guy– he’s super laid back but the thing is that this is Survivor and it’s all a numbers game. I mean, we are going to get rid of him if we lose so we have to try to make him feel comfortable.”
Troyzan’s confessional: “Andrea, come on, man! She acts like she’s my buddy but she’s a little devil that one. I know she’s playing a game. She’s not as clever, I think as she thinks she is. I’m 54 years old, I’m the oldest guy out here and, you know, my intuition is good and I feel like I learned so much from One World and I found an idol then when I had to find one. I won an immunity challenge when I had to and I changed the game. So this time I will not let any stone be unturned I’m going to start to at least look for the idol.”
Back in camp, Andrea was telling Sarah that they had to be watching Troyzan. Ozzy figured he couldn’t be gone for a long time.
Still, it was enough for Troyzan to spot the bottle that contained a clue to an idol hidden at the challenge. Troy was in tears when he read the message, saying he thought he had lost his life.
Troy’s confessional: “The next immunity challenge is going to be crazy for me. It’s going to be hugely difficult because I’ll have two things to think about: winning a super-tough game changing challenge plus I have to find an hidden immunity idol in front of everybody, but if I can do it, will be like a complete 180.”
This scene raises one question: Who will be Troy’s victim? With Cirie in the picture, I doubt that Troy will be left with the decision but if it is a 5-1 vote then I’d expect him to target that little devil Andrea. However, I think he’ll play his idol to stay safe but there will be a 3-2-1 voting scheme in place. Cirie and her ally will place two votes on someone in their alliance. Would that be Ozzy? I think Cirie will want to trust him for a while.
Nuku – Goat Hunting
JT’s confessional: “Sandra’s mentioned a couple of times that she would love to have a goat. She’s starving to death and we could eat so much goat so I said it would be great– I could probably catch one for you. I don’t really want to catch any goat but first thing I need to do is keep myself safe, and if I can please Sandra and make her happy, then I think Sandra would love me to death. That would probably keep me safer in this game.”
Sandra spotted their meal in the form of two goats right outside the camp so JT and Malcolm raced after them. JT caught the baby goat while Malcolm grabbed its mother. JT handed the little one to Sandra and went to help Malcolm.
Malcolm’s interview: “Catching a goat was never on my bucket list and we pick it up and take it back to camp when we realize the only reason we caught it was because it was a momma goat and it didn’t want to run away from its baby. So we don’t really have a choice. We won’t kill them because we have a conscience but I got to be very careful what I say to Sandra because Sandra desperately wants to eat a goat, and in a game like Survivor, there’s no need to make enemies or cause angst in this camp.”
When Michaela asked to pet the baby’s head, Sandra who was holding it tight said: “You can but don’t get too attached because it’s going to be our meal.”
Michaela’s confessional: “Sandra doesn’t care about killing these goats. In her mind, it’s just food. She was a villain for a reason.”
Sandra’s interview: “I don’t see anything wrong with killing and eating a goat. That’s what they are here for– for human consumption. Everyone wants to add their 2 cents in and I got to get everybody to do it as a group because that was the plan: To catch something and kill it.”
Sandra’s biblical view of animals is definitely not in style anymore. Most viewers care for the ethical treatment of animals so they had to be really upset hearing this and they would all have voted against Sandra.
JT and Malcolm told Sandra that they couldn’t kill either one.
JT’s interview: “I didn’t really expect to catch a goat this quick but I’m not a savage beast. (We had a close-up of the baby goat just lying there, free but not walking away from its mom and simply looking adorable). There’s no way I’m going to kill that momma goat and her baby. I just can’t do it.”
JT suggested he catch a male goat. Sandra wanted to vote on that.
JT’s interview continued: “Sandra wants to eat a goat and she’s running the show but I’d rather let these goats go. I’ll see if I can catch a random goat that’s not a momma or a baby so I’m going to try my best to save the goats.”
Varner said he was hungry but that he couldn’t. Sandra said: “I don’t know how to kill it but I’ll help you clean it out, clean the carcass.”
Malcolm’s interview: “You could tell who is for it and who is against it immediately. Sandra doesn’t give a damn which is Sandra’s MO about life I’m starting to realize. But everybody else starts talking it through and no one wants to be the Survivor that abandoned a baby goat motherless in the wild.”
Varner was the first to say that he wanted to let them go. JT quickly agreed. Michaela pointed out that they had four chickens so Sandra relented and said: “JT, we’re eating a chicken.”
Malcolm’s interview concluded the discussion: “This is an easy decision because we have a heart. We are not going to kill either of the goats so we ended up letting the goats go. That initial surge of adrenaline and your mouth watering slows down a lot when you’re actually thinking about abandoning a little baby goat so it made sense to let them go and it’s going to be much better for this tribe moving forward.”
The scene ended with the baby goat running away.
In her first two seasons, Sandra “slaughtered” goats during final Tribal Councils but this time the votes didn’t go her way. In the great scheme of things, this was another meaningless scene but it really painted JT, Malcolm and even Varner in a good light while the “villainess” Sandra lost many fans.
Scene 3 – The Challenge
The runners for Mana were Tai, Caleb and (?) Debbie. (Even before we saw the line-ups for the other teams, I could already tell you which team would be last at the puzzle!)
Nuku sent JT, Malcolm and Michaela (an unbeatable trio when it comes to racing).
Andrea, Sarah and Ozzy ran for Tavua.
Troyzan’s interview: “This idol being hidden under this table makes me way nervous because I’m in charge of untying knots so I have to wait until after the challenge ends in order to grab it.”
As expected Nuku were the first through the gates, Tavua came in second while Mana brought up the rear.
Aubry untied the puzzle pieces that Varner and Sandra assembled. Sierra made up a lot of time for Mana, finishing before Troyzan. Hali and Brad were their puzzle solvers while Zeke and Cirie did the work for Tavua.
Nuku and Tavua won immunity. (Did you notice the lack of creativity for the second place idol? It was simply the support for the original idol!)
Faking exhaustion, Troyzan slowly walked around the table and bent over as if in agony. He quietly picked up the hidden idol while the others were high fiving each other.
Troyzan’s interview: “To find an idol again is like Ha! I did it! Finding this changes everything. It’s life for me. It gives you the feeling of power and power is huge in this game.”
With Tavua likely going to Tribal Council next week, Troyzan will have to play it then so who would fall victim to that idol?
In addition to the tarp, Nuku chose comfort items, leaving the spices to Tavua.
Debbie had the interview at the end: “In this game, it’s all about numbers. This is a dictatorship majority rules so we will have a brief negotiation whether it is Caleb or Hali and I believe we are rock solid staying together.”
I was really hoping this was the kiss-of-death confessional once more but unfortunately, we’ll have to listen to Debbie for some time still. It would have made sense for game changers to make a move. Debbie has hurt them in challenges and, from Brad’s perspective, it would have broken up the Kaoh Rong trio just as effectively as eliminating Caleb.
This scene started with images of a sunken ship which reminded me of Hali’s words at Tribal Council: “Loose lips sink ships”. Would someone say something to change the inevitable? Actually, no one has lived up to the title of Game Changer yet and this vote was already locked in. The melancholic violins told us we wouldn’t be witnessing any surprises, only an execution.
Hali’s interview: “We lost a challenge. The unthinkable occurred so a miracle will happen if I’m to be here tomorrow. I’m feeling like two against four and Caleb is a freaking powerhouse so immediately I know I’m in hot water.”
Was that really unthinkable? Shouldn’t she have been thinking of that exact possibility? The next part of her comment was right though; her stay in the game wasn’t due to anything we saw her doing so, from her perspective, it was a miracle. In fact, we saw her hanging out by the sea with Caleb instead of talking to those who had the power to keep her in the game.
In his interview, Caleb reminded us that he left on day 9 in his first season and this was also day 9.
Debbie and Sierra talked to Tai about the vote, and it was clear that for him, Hali had to go first.
Sierra’s interview: “The two names that are on the chopping block tonight are Hali and Caleb. I haven’t really talked to Hali since I’ve played with her before on Worlds Apart so, seeing her here, you know, we have no relationship, but Tai and Caleb, they scare me. They’re close so there would have to be some underlying alliance there…There is a little bit of concern but obviously, if you target a strong player such as Caleb your chances of winning challenges get smaller and smaller.”
Debbie’s interview: “My logic is this: I’ve got Caleb and Tai from Kaoh Rong that I can potentially work with but Tai and Caleb have a history and one thing I’ve learned from playing before is past relationships absolutely matter and you’re a fool to discount them.”
Brad’s interview: “Maybe getting rid of Hali would be a better choice but Caleb, Debbie and Tai absolutely have a relationship and if they wanted to team up, I’m sure they’d send me home first. Right now, I don’t want to be the chief so I would like Tai to make the decision.”
When Tai returned from his swim all covered with sand, the two sat down.
Suddenly the music did become tenser; the pounding drums told us this was a crucial moment.
When Brad asked for his thoughts, Tai was quite direct: “Hali is going home.” When he saw Brad’s expression, Tai started questioning but still he felt they needed Caleb for the challenges. Brad pointed out that Caleb would hurt Tai’s game if he was still there at the merge. Brad asked if Tai was in the game for Caleb or for himself? Tai said he was in it for himself.
Tai’s interview: “Brad gave me such valuable advice. It makes sense. Last time I played with my heart but this game changer I got to think clear. If we get rid of Caleb, it’s very difficult because I’m friend of Caleb. We’ve played together before, we had some great time and it’s very, very difficult for me to say I will write his name down because it’s such a betrayal to our friendship. Can I do it? I will live with this moment over and over again. Tonight I have to really think with my brain who is the better person to take out: Hali or Caleb?”
Did Tai freely use his brain or was Brad in there pulling strings? That was a great job of manipulation by the former NFL player and seeing Tai covering his face and his eyes with sand, we had a clear symbol that he wasn’t seeing the picture correctly.
Debbie said it was unnerving to be with Tai and Caleb because the others are going to perceive them as a trio.
Tai agreed, adding that everyone would see them as being dangerous together.
Caleb pointed out that Tai had been with a whole new group for 7 days.
Brad said he bonded well with Tai on the old Nuku tribe so maybe that broke the earlier bond.
Sierra said that Caleb and Tai’s connection was a huge concern while she and Hali have no relationship so it was different.
Hali said that she first felt like she and Caleb were at the bottom but then she realized that Caleb had more options.
Caleb said the others had to make a determination: “They either want to take a strong player that would be loyal, kick butt in challenges and give them all they’ve got which is me, or they are going to go with Hali who is probably easier to manipulate and possibly easier to take along.”
Jeff asked Hali what it felt like to be considered the easier one to eliminate.
Jeff wasn’t even listening…
Hali corrected Jeff: “I don’t think that’s exactly what he said. I think he put himself out there as someone who is stronger headed than me and a bigger player in this game and in a game of game changers is that who you want around?”
When Jeff realized that Hali flipped the script, he asked Brad for his thoughts.
Brad said she was a budding attorney for a reason. Brad said they both were valuable so it was a difficult decision.
Tai told Jeff he had to look at the big picture.
Caleb pointed out that he doesn’t have as many connections with the other side as Hali.
Hali’s closing argument was that she had been herself and would continue to be like that with these people and go far with them.
It was time to vote.
This was certainly going to be a 5-1 vote so even those who hadn’t guessed by now had to realize that Caleb was gone as soon as Jeff read the 3rd vote.
Caleb, who showed a lot of class in his final words, kissed the top of Tai’s head for luck before grabbing his torch.
Jeff’s final words of the episode: “Well, every time you vote somebody out, you change the dynamics of the tribe and the question is always the same: Who does it benefit? Who does it hurt?”
While a quote from Sandra could once more be used as the episode’s theme, she wasn’t the one that led sheep to slaughter. Ever since season 3, random swaps have led defenseless players to be slaughtered. That twist got general acceptance because its first two victims were Silas and Sarah but it’s always been unfair. Some win the jackpot while others see their games end without any real recourse. But more than the vote or even a swap, the editing favors some players over others. While the eventual winner can still be hidden behind the big characters, some players really had a good swap and a good portrayal in this episode. It would stand to reason that these will be long-term players.
Hurt by the Vote – They cut their options moving forward:
Tai: The sand in the face was a great symbol for Tai’s game: He can’t see clearly. Yes, the Kaoh Rong trio was on everyone’s mind but why not target Debbie instead? Brad would have been reassured that those three weren’t about to take over their group of five and Tai certainly could have sold Brad on Caleb’s loyalty. As a former NFL player, he would have been much more comfortable with a former army soldier than with whatever Debbie is at the moment. Instead of getting Brad and Caleb together, Tai was fixated on Hali and that will probably hurt him down the line.
Debbie: She did have options with Caleb and Tai so it would have been simple to recruit Hali and take control of the tribe from Brad. Instead, Debbie simply went along. This oddball would have a lot of difficulty convincing any jury to reward her with a million dollars but she certainly couldn’t do it by riding coattails. Yes, she’s delivered some interviews that show her playing with a level head but she is used only as a narrator instead of having every day camp scenes devoted to her. This is a way to soften the craziness from her first season.
Hurt by the Editing – Three practically disappeared while the other three had bad exposure
Aubry: If anyone was hurt by the unusual way this episode started it was Aubry. She had been the pawn during the last Tribal Council so the audience could certainly assume she was next on the block. It would have been the perfect time to let us hear her thoughts about the situation especially considering that the swap would leave her pretty much with the same group. We didn’t even go back to the original Mana after their Tribal Council and we heard nothing from her except when she agreed that JT was looking for the idol. Shouldn’t she have been looking also? Does she plan on sneaking out to find it? We don’t know because her plight simply doesn’t matter.
Michaela: Her only intervention served to tell us that Sandra was a villain for a reason. All of us wondered about that casting decision 14 seasons ago but this episode finally explained it: Sandra doesn’t give a damn, and even Michaela, who doesn’t give a damn about much herself, saw it. It doesn’t tell us much about Michaela’s longevity in the game but, like the premiere, she doesn’t seem to be portrayed as someone who will have an impact down the road. Staying quiet could earn her a place at the merge which she just missed last season but it won’t earn her the title of Sole Survivor.
Sarah: Like Andrea with Cirie last week, Sarah was the only member of her tribe who didn’t talk about Troyzan’s precarious position. The difference here though is that the viewers don’t care for Troy as much as they do for Cirie so there was nothing to gain by hiding her. She must have said something in interview about Tony’s elimination but we didn’t hear that either. I saw Boston Rob’s silence about Russell’s elimination as a clear sign that Boston Rob’s goal wasn’t to beat Russell; he was there to win the whole thing. Can the same be deduced from Sarah’s silence about Tony? While Tony could claim to be one of Survivor’s “Legends”, he still wasn’t on the same level as Hantz and Boston Rob. This season wasn’t built around him and CBS wasn’t going to pay for his wedding! And what can we say about Sarah? Reminding us that she wanted to do better than Tony would simply have served her story instead of showing pettiness. In Redemption Island, revealing too much information was a main theme and David even said that seeing his tribemates “dancing on Russell’s grave” was painful. Those themes don’t exist this season so this is simply a big hole in Sarah’s story.
Zeke: Troyzan found an idol and he’ll most likely play it next week so I look at Zeke’s interview about Troy as an indication that he could be the one hurt by an idol play. He did get some nice moments like when he was the only one to figure the twist and when he made up with Cirie but Zeke looks too confident for his own good.
Hali: While her arguments at Tribal Council were well delivered, I think it was clear that the decision had been made before leaving for Tribal Council. Only Tai was undecided but even his vote couldn’t save Caleb. It would have helped her story if we had seen her talking to Brad, Debbie or Sierra to save herself. I hope she did but what we saw was her hanging out on the beach with Caleb, hoping for a miracle. She didn’t make any important moves in Worlds Apart and she doesn’t seem to be doing anything worth mentioning here either.
Sandra: While some of Sandra’s previous actions showed she was a villain (letting Christa get blamed for throwing out the fish for example) most of the viewers liked her. The queen’s crown was badly tainted by her desire to kill the goats. It’s also interesting that while Sandra agreed to let the goats go only because they had four chickens to eat, we never saw the chicken dinner. We are left with the impression that Sandra kills animals while the others, JT, Malcolm and Varner in particular, care for them. That baby goat walked away with Sandra’s crown on its head.
Benefiting from the Vote
Brad: The effects of all those hits he took to the head during his NFL career are much less noticeable than during his first season. Many will say that Brad had a great portrayal in this episode: He took the lead of Mana but he did it subtly, letting Tai think he was making the decision. However, the way his confessional was cut, with Sierra’s loud “What? Stop it” when Brad was explaining his scheme of getting rid of Caleb first tells us that this was a pyrrhic victory. Somewhere down the line, Brad will regret making this move against Caleb who could have been a useful ally. Maybe that’s why we heard Caleb saying he was close to Varner and Malcolm. Those two will now see Brad as a rival, not a potential ally.
Benefiting from the Editing
Andrea: While she received a negative comment from Troy who called her a little devil that wasn’t as clever as she thought she was, we had some good visuals for Andrea during the swap suggesting that everything is still possible for her. Maybe Troyzan is underestimating her, not having learned the lessons of his first season. Andrea told us about the situation on her new tribe without sounding as overconfident as Zeke and we heard that she likes Troy so maybe she can soften him up in the next three days and then prove that she is a clever little devil. Like everyone else in her tribe, she gave Troy too much time alone and now his idol could hurt her. There is still not enough substance to Andrea’s story to say she will be the season’s Sole Survivor but her presentation merits attention.
Troyzan: I hesitate putting him here because a lot of his triumphalism reminded me of the jerk in One World screaming that it was HIS ISLAND! but then his tears when he held the clue in his hands softened his image a lot. Still, his idol could be only a momentary reprieve. With two tribes going to Council next week, it would be surprising to see a tribe with no real shelter and little supplies beating the other two. If they do go for a vote then a 3-2-1 split would cancel most of the sting from that idol. Someone in the group of 5 would leave but, just like in One World, Troy would be left alone going up against a determined group.
Ozzy: His confessional about being a veteran and having to take the lead to help his tribe wasn’t delivered with Oscar’s usual amount of arrogance but rather in a very matter-of-fact way. He does have over one hundred days of experience and he is an outdoorsman so it was critical for him to take charge in this rather dire situation. We’ve seen tribes collapse when they had to start from scratch and battle an opponent with a better shelter (Koror was probably the only exception) and Ozzy’s biggest contribution for the tribe was in the challenge where he guided his group to climb over the obstacle instead of going through it. His biggest contribution for his own game was making up with Cirie. If Ozzy can work with the tactical genius that is Cirie then maybe he can indeed make it to the end. Will Cirie stay loyal to him? Right now she seems honest when she says she wants to fix things with Ozzy. Like no one could believe that Cochran and Dawn could work together in Caramoan, no one would imagine Ozzy and Cirie in a symbiotic relationship.
JT: Considering that JT was the big star of the only three meaningless scenes this season, one can’t help but put him right at the top of the list of contenders. First he told us that he loves animals just like Tai but he wouldn’t compromise his game trying to save them. In this episode he had a brilliant scheme to look for the idol which was quite reminiscent of Rob’s tricks in Redemption Island but he didn’t find the idol. That little ploy attracted attention of the other five but the next scene showed that JT has found a way to recover the Teflon he wore in Tocantins because he was back in his tribe’s good graces. That even included Sandra! When has Sandra ever let a rival out of her dog house? She counted on JT to catch her meal and when the tribe disagreed she once more turned to him for the chicken dinner. We certainly have to keep in mind JT’s “promise” that Sandra wouldn’t be the only two-time winner after this season.
Benefiting from the Swap and the Editing
Cirie: While she wound up in the tribe that had the worse living conditions, the story has turned and Cirie doesn’t appear to be in danger anymore. Like the other former Nuku members now in Tavua, Troy’s idol hangs over her head like the sword of Damocles. However, Cirie has a lot of experience dealing with immunity idols so I doubt she’ll let Troy have his way. Troy isn’t as dumb as Erik so I doubt she’ll be able to convince him to sit on it but she’ll find a way to deflect its power.
Sierra: We were impressed with her tactical contributions in the first episode but that could have been all due to finding the legacy advantage. Now we saw that these tactical skills have carried over to the new tribe. After the challenge loss, Sierra immediately realized that Tai and Caleb’s alliance was scary. In the long run, a trio of Brad, Tai and Caleb could have been even scarier for her: Even if she works well with men, those three would have probably preferred keeping it between the boys when it came to the Final Three. I wonder if she tried to connect with Hali once it was decided that Caleb was going or if she was telling the truth at Tribal Council about not having any kind of relationship with her. While it was inexcusable for Hali not to talk to her, for Sierra it was a missed opportunity. Maybe she can make up for it now.
Varner: He delivered a nicely placed interview after the twist when he said he was ready for the challenge. We saw that he wasn’t fooled by JT. Then he showed compassion for the goats. From an editing perspective, that means he hit all the right notes during this episode. Maybe some will say he was a hypocrite because he certainly enjoyed eating pig during Australia and that the only difference was Mike killed the pig immediately while JT and Malcolm caught the goats so they still had to be killed. If it really matters, I suggest the difference is enough to say that Varner’s compassion was honest. If any game changing moves are successful this season then I think Varner is a prime candidate for one of them. We heard that Caleb was close to Jeff so it seems that the former Kucha tribe member was really a mercenary in Sandra’s army instead of her loyal soldier.
Malcolm: Like Varner, he talked about the great swap they enjoyed and he wasn’t fooled by JT’s shenanigans. He was the first to say that they couldn’t kill the goats so that should endear him even more to the audience. Malcolm, who was never all in with Sandra, could find a better suited ally in JT and wouldn’t that be an ideal match up for the finale in many viewers’ eye? We still don’t know what Malcolm said or did when the group returned from snorkeling. The way this scene was cut before its real ending gave JT the upper hand: He outwitted them even if he didn’t find the idol and Malcolm was left holding a broken spear. It leads us to suspect that JT will have the upper hand in their final confrontation whenever that occurs.
So, since I will certainly be asked, who are my top contenders? While it seems that Brad, Cirie and Varner will go a long way, I’d have to put Sierra, Andrea, Ozzy, Malcolm and JT as the ones who are more likely to win it all. Sierra has been much more visible than expected. Andrea has been shown less than expected but everything is still possible for her so she merits attention. Ozzy is much less Oscar than he was in Micronesia and he’s apparently realized he needs to work with Cirie. Malcolm is shown as a noble warrior that can get along with Sandra even if he isn’t really with her. JT has been the center of all the odd little camp scenes that don’t count in the game’s strategy but have been left in to connect us to him. If he survives his present peril then he knows how to win even without the numbers.