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Game Changers – Episode 2: Survivor Jackpot


I love returning players seasons for many reasons. The obvious one being to see your favorite players play again. Another one is that the pre-merge episodes are always great (and post-merge is usually greater too).

I’m also finding myself liking those early swaps, they keep people from forming too tight alliances that then cruise til the end if they managed to win enough early challenges. They also allow for more than one swap before the merge.
However, while I like the idea of two tribes becoming three, I don’t like how the new tribe gets screwed having to start over. It usually gets seriously penalized (although this time it didn’t go to tribal council). I understand that it would give them an unfair advantage if production built a camp for them, but it should inherit some of the things from the two other camps or something along those lines. At least this time they got some tools to start with.

I also find fascinating how the new tribes ended up being. With new Nuku being full-All-Stars (Michaela being the only “baby” in it) and new Mana being pretty much all the players that raised eyebrows when being cast for this season. The new tribe Tavua being kind of a mix.

So, let’s see this in detail.


Mana Tribe

Brad Culpepper: We’re seeing a very different Brad from his first season. His edit is very positive, we’re not seeing his abrasive side at all (it doesn’t even seem to be there), and we’re seeing a much more complex person than we’re used to. The interior decorator thing was pretty “hardcore”, who would have imagine him making such a comment. I mean, back in Blood Vs Water, it was obvious that his edit was one sided into the villain of the season, and I loved hating him. There had to be more to him. We’re seeing it now, and it’s very interesting. It should remind us two things. First, what we see every week is heavily edited footage; 72 hours shrunk into 42 minutes or so. All of those people are real people, that is multi-faceted beings with more or less complex personalities that are turned into much less complex characters. The second thing to keep in mind is the reason why the editors make the choices that they make. It is to tell us a story. And Brad’s edit right now is basically telling us that he’s in it for the long run, he’ll matter, and he could even win. I don’t know if he’s gonna win, but his edit this episode definitely was a winner’s edit (which also could be a misdirection, we’ve seen similar winner edits pre-merge that were for people who ended up being voted out mid-season before the real winner emerges later on – San Juan Del Sur being the perfect example).
He also seems to be in control of his new tribe at the moment, although only his relationship with Tai was shown. They both seem quite close, but it’s not an equal relationship, Brad is the boss there. I’d like to see him interacting with the other members more. For example, there may be a lawyer connection thing with Hali that we’re not seeing and that may have saved her.



Caleb Reynolds voted out: It’s pretty odd how he got voted out. I guess it’s only a numbers thing, it was gonna be him or Hali. Still, I think it was a mistake to vote him out so early. Sure, his bond with Tai was worrisome on the long run, but on the short term, his strength was a sure asset. I feel that there’s a new trend these days of voting strong players earlier and earlier. I’m still not sure if it’s the right thing to do or not. Sure, you don’t want them to go dominating every challenge after the merge, but nowadays individual challenges tend to be designed in ways that don’t advantage physically strong players that much (and tribe challenges are more and more divided into physical and non physical parts in one challenge).  Overall, it seems that physical strength is not really a factor anymore past the first week on the island. Not sure.

Debbie Vanner: Not much about Debbie this week. However, it’s interesting that we don’t see her “crazy” side much right now (or at all this week, right?). She’s part of the decision making process in her tribe, she managed to distance herself from Tai and Caleb (after all, she has ties with them too, even if they’re not as strong as the one they have with each other). Overall, she gets a rather subdued and positive edit. She could go far too. However, she doesn’t have much of a story right now. Not sure what that means.

Hali Ford: She was the obvious boot this week and yet she survived. I think many of us here dismiss her quickly as not belonging to this season. However, while she’s nowhere near the real All-Stars of this season in terms of importance and legacy, she may be able to pull a much more subtle game along the lines of a Michelle from two seasons ago. I’m still not sure how well she can play, but she is indeed much smarter than what we’ve seen during her first season. At tribal council, while the decision to vote out Caleb had most likely already been made, she did a great job defending herself, like the real budding lawyer that she is. Escaping that vote was crucial. Unless Mana returns to tribal council right away she may be safe for a while, and even if Mana returns there soon.

Sierra Dawn Thomas: She didn’t really impress me either way this episode. She does have some game in her, but nothing too exceptional either. That was smart of her and Hali to distance themselves from each other. However, while it’s true that they were never allies and I don’t think they’re friends outside of the game, having played together always gives you an “advantage” as you know what to expect from the person much more than from anyone else. Still, I don’t see them getting into an alliance, but being in the same tribe may help both of them right now.

Tai Trang: I love the guy. In real life, he may have one of the most beautiful hearts. But this game really isn’t for him. He says he’ll play with his brain and not with his heart this time, and while it may seem that way in his decision to vote out Caleb, reality is that he probably didn’t have a choice, and he probably got tricked by Brad into believing that it was his decision, when Brad was just making sure Tai didn’t do anything that could put wrinkles in the plan. Still, he has a history of betrayals and flip-flopping, as soon as the game becomes more tense and more complicated, I feel that he’s going to be in trouble.


Nuku Tribe

Aubry Bracco: She was pretty invisible this week, wasn’t she? Seeing how she doesn’t really have much screen time and no real story beside aligning herself with Tony and being the decoy vote for reasons unknown last week, it doesn’t really seem she’ll be making much of an impact this season. Hmmm…

Michaela Bradshaw: She also was pretty invisible this week. Sure, not much happened at Nuku that wasn’t centered around JT this week, but still. The thing is that Michaela sure is a great character (and she seems like a great person), but I’m not sure she’s that great of a player. Returning like this, right after her original season – that she didn’t even watch on TV yet – playing with people she’s never met before, she really looks and feels like the only newbie among seasoned players, including a few legends. A difficult position to be in.

Sandra Diaz-Twine: She kinda was depicted negatively during the goat episode. Wanting to eat a baby goat? Who does that? Still, it was interesting to see that it really was in tune with her character, both the not-giving-a-damn (she’ll eat a baby goat) and the always-aligning-with-the-majority thing. When she saw that her plan wasn’t very popular with the tribe, she didn’t insist too much to have it her way, she just followed the trend. While I’m glad and surprised that she has lasted this long, her depiction (pretty uni-dimensional right now, she’s depicted like her character, almost a caricature of what made her famous her first two previous seasons) doesn’t seem to indicate that she’ll last much longer. She probably won’t make the merge.

Malcolm Freberg: He’s in a very good spot right now in his tribe. Nobody seems to have the slightest intention of going after him. That definitely is his best start. I know I’m biased towards Malcolm, but I really think he’s one of the most well-rounded Survivor contestants. He’s a threat in many ways: physically and mentally strong, great social game, charming as hell, funny and a great strategist. While everyone should be going after him, the truth is that everyone wants to work with him. I don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon. Also he gets plenty or air time which is a good sign. The only negative thing is that pretty much all of his confessionals are about him narrating what’s going on in his tribe. He doesn’t have personal storyline at the moment.

James “J.T.” Thomas Jr.: One thing many people forget about JT is that behind this “charming redneck” persona, there’s a very very intelligent player. He showed it again this week. After the swap, he was basically screwed. He’s already a big target, and he’s alone with five players from former Mana. Still, he managed to make the best of it. His plan to leave everyone in the ocean and go look for an idol alone wasn’t as transparent as it seemed for us. When he first left, Varner pointed out how silly he was to isolate himself from the rest of the group. It took them a while to realize that he was isolating them, not himself. Sure, one can argue that he’s painting a larger target on his back, but honestly, it’s already as big as it can, so going for broke is his only option at the moment. It didn’t exactly pay off as he didn’t find an idol, but they don’t know that, which will complicate the vote when it happens. Also, while he hasn’t found the idol, he knows where it isn’t, which gives him a small advantage to find it later.
Then, there’s the goat thing. He’s both the one who caught them (with Malcolm’s help) and the one who led the “let’s not kill them after all” decision. I think he gained some points with the tribe there (except maybe with Sandra). The goat hunt even probably was a bonding moment with Malcolm.
On a side note, I feel that some viewers may be surprised by his decision. After all, he’s a cattle rancher, if someone would have no qualms killing an animal it would be him. Well, leaving the “who wants to be the one killing a baby goat on national television” thing aside, I think this is a very urban thing to believe. Living in the countryside among animals makes you know them and understand them better. And while you may have to kill at times, you also do it only if necessary. And you won’t kill at random, and definitely not a baby and its mom (or worse, a baby in front of his mom or vice-versa) unless it’s a matter of life and death (yours).
I find Sandra’s behavior to be the really urban disconnected from nature one. No, Sandra, animals are not around just to be food for humans.
I always find very interesting that urban people, the ones that really have little to no contact with nature, tend to see animals only in two ways: either as having a purpose related to humans (pets, food, etc) or on the other end of the spectrum some sort of sacred beings that must be treated better than anything, even other human beings (noticed how almost all vegetarians, vegans, etc are very urban people?).
JT isn’t like that. He actually understands nature and animals.

Jeff Varner: He was somewhat under the radar this week. Still, he wasn’t invisible. He even had a confessional I believe. I think he’s doing what he should be doing right now, and he may even make the jury this time. Yet, his lack of storyline also makes me think that he may not play a big role this season. We’ll see..


Tavua Tribe

Andrea Boehlke: We saw her a bit more than during the premiere, but barely. And it was a bit negative. She thought she was playing Troyzan, but he wasn’t buying it, and she probably didn’t realize it. We don’t know, we didn’t get her insights on the situation. Right now, she really is in the background, which is surprising (in the sense that I expected her to have an influence this season) and not (she doesn’t usually make waves if she doesn’t have to)

Cirie Fields: Not much about her either, except that Ozzy and her seem to finally understand that they need to work together if they want to make it far (well, Ozzy finally seems to understand, Cirie did since day one). This focus on their past history makes me think that it will play an important part later this season, but it may also be their only story this season. We’ll see.

Sarah Lacina: She was almost invisible this week. Sure not much has happened in her tribe, but it’s never really good when the editors really don’t have anything to show about you.

Ozzy Lusth: Seriously Ozzy? After four seasons and your reputation, are you still afraid that people may doubt your abilities as a provider for the tribe? That’s what you’re famous for (and swimming too)! Having to rebuild the camp was great for him, as he could show how awesome he is in that area. What he should worry about is his ability to play strategically. OK, I’m not being fair with him. The very fact that he spoke to Cirie about needing each other shows that he’s aware that he needs to have a strategy, or rather an ally that has strategy.

Troy “Troyzan” Robertson: a very good week for Troyzan. He went from obvious first boot in that tribe to being in a safe position. Nobody really sees him as threat (his unjustified bad reputation is actually helping him there) and he has an idol that nobody suspects. While he’s not out of the woods yet, I think he will last and he could even make an impact on the game.
On a side note, I really love the idols being hidden at challenges, it makes great television. I was really nervous (less than him I’m sure) that he’d fail getting it, or worse, get busted. Actually, production really should plant more idols in challenges, we need to see someone getting busted trying to grab one.

Zeke Smith: He doesn’t have much of a story right now, but we always see him at least a little. I think he’ll last and even possibly make an impact. While in theory he’s in the same situation as Michaela, he has much more game play than she has, and he has that charming smile and personality that may make people more willing to work with him.



Game changer of the week:
It’s hard to pick one. Troyzan finding an idol may matter later, but not this episode. As Brad seem to have been the force behind Caleb’s boot and making sure Tai doesn’t mess things up, he’s getting the award, but more by default than anything else.

Who’s going to win?
definitely got a winner edit this week and he’s now in contention to win the game. Malcolm is still up there too, and Troyzan not too far. A few under the radar people may surge later, but right now only those three seem that they’re in the future winner’s seat.

And the next person voted out is:
Hmmm… Really hard to tell. JT is still in trouble at Nuku, but he has time to change his position in the tribe. Sandra is in trouble and will probably be every week. At Mana, I see Tai being in danger. At Tavua, Troyzan is the obvious target, he knows it, so either he plays his idol and decides who gets voted out (Andrea?) or he tries to use it as leverage and it could go in many directions.


Next time on Survivor:
A showdown between Sandra and JT? What’s up with all these winners voting each other out instead of working together? Still, here it makes sense, as JT is the obvious target and his best line of defense is indeed to target Sandra.
And we get a double vote!
I wonder how it’s going play out. It could be simple: one tribe goes to tribal and votes, then another tribe goes. But mixing things up could be interesting. I’d love to see one big tribal council where two people get voted out. I mean, something along the lines of everyone votes for two people, one from each tribe. I’ve been wanting for things to get spiced up at tribal council a little more, this season could be the occasion.
I still dream of a season with just one tribe from the beginning, and as 16-20 people in one tribal council may be too crowded, they’d be divided into tribes more or less randomly only before challenges, and only the losing temporary tribe would go to tribal or something along these lines.


OK, that’s all for today. If you like what you read, do not hesitate to share it on your social media of choice, and do not forget to follow me on Facebook (where I share the blogs and sites about Survivor that I find interesting, among other things).


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