So things happened this episode.
I mean I kind of have to write about it, right? I could file in excuses of why I have had trouble, but this is kind of momentous. I mean, as short lasting as it was, this is what we hoped for. This was towards the top of our wish list when we saw these people would be on a season together, and we got it. In some ways, we should consider ourselves lucky, because even through the bitter, near religious divides of the fanbase and the arbitrary legacy deciders (especially when one has yet to finish the season), this was a big deal that can’t be shied away from.
May as well not waste any more time about it since I’m writing so close to the next episode and all. Time for the Hindsight Bias!
It’s funny, because she actually wasn’t a big deal in the episode. Just about every full All-Star season, hell most any season with returnee first boots, tend to take over an hour. While this was a double premiere, it was two hour-long episodes, and the first hour-long episode claimed her. I think there was a lot of fear of what she could have done- namely, been Probst’s Propaganda Minister For Big Moves 2017- that she was feared by viewers for what she could have done rather than what she did. That is to say, not much.
Since she had less time devoted to her than most first boots did, I would argue that nothing she did was remotely unique to the story on an individual level. She messed up a puzzle, she threw out names, she went home. That is literally as cut and dry a first boot option as you get. Still, in the context of Ciera, that’s actually quite a fitting way to go. If you’re the poster child for demanding people make big moves, then go home because no one else wants to make big moves yet (then the person who does make big moves kills their game), that’s kind of hilarious. So while the surface quality of her ouster is vastly underwhelming, the meta-quality of her boot is quite high.
Still, there’s a part of me that is sad about this- namely, this is not good for her legacy at all. If she considers herself a big mover, her ouster here has convinced fans that she never made an impact at all. It reeks of people lining up to discredit her, people throwing parades over her low placement because it means they can bag on her when she really upset the apple cart in Blood vs Water. I’m sad to see her reduced to a literal do-nothing of no importance- still, can’t say I’ll miss her. Long term effects aside, at least if the season gets bad it will be less on the backs of “game changers have to make big moves” since the season just started and the biggest proponent of that was unceremoniously executed for that.
I hope the hello she got from Tony was a nice consolation prize.
Oh, and there’s this thing too.
Tony was a coin toss for this season. I didn’t mention it because too many other factors were on my mind, but Tony could have been a headache to deal with this season. I mean, he got eleven confessionals this double premiere alone, and considering he nearly broke 100 in Cagayan that is not promising. That is why I thank God every day since the eighth that the queen stayed queen, because not only was Tony out early before he was able to llama-shriek every episode, but we got what was essentially the other side of his coin- his gameplay led to him being a trainwreck.
Tony relies on high risk/reward gameplay. In Cagayan it worked out for him- his spy shacks, trillion idols, crazy talk and rampant lies all inexplicably built up some great gameplay. I think that there was a good hint of dizzying play that left a lot of his allies for a confused loop as he cut them. Still, it was not a game that would work twice- especially when people already know it.
I think to some extent Tony went in thinking he wasn’t going to win and essentially pulling a Hatch- just have fun for the two seconds you’re there. I can see why he’d think that, what with his legend as a player both energetic and brutal. However, the thing is I don’t think he needed to be. Had he kept his head down and avoided stirring shit, I think he could have gotten more on his side. The unspoken thing about Tony is that he has a good amount of natural charisma, and could easily have slotted himself into a group that was solid. The “meat shield” alliance he cooked up with Sandra would have been just the insulation he needed, especially as a huge target himself.
Then he justified why exactly he was a huge target.
To be fair I think a lot of his downfall was doing a lot of Tony 1.0 things in a Tony 2.0 season, where everyone was unnerved by what he did in Cagayan. That having been said, he picked the wrong crowd to try Tony 1.0 on, and I hold that to be the case even if none of them had heard of a Tony before. The thing that made Tony work in Cagayan was subtlety- some from him (the Aparri tribe wasn’t nearly as aware of how devious he could be) and from the others (nor did they particularly care). In Mana, they weren’t gonna let him off the hook with that shit regardless of whether he was Tony or Tai. They’re all quite suspicious and have eyes at the back of their heads. This was not a crowd that was set to stand by dazed as Tony tried to snow them. They, as he learned, could get loud too.
Ultimately as easy as it would be to point out Tony’s utter failure of a Spy Bunker or his antagonism of Sandra as the reason he went home, it was that, quite frankly, he did not read this room correctly. He didn’t seem to understand that this was a room he could be a calm one in and get the gameplay aid of others, and he damn sure didn’t seem to understand that this room would not tolerate him going bat-shit-crazy. Thus, he ended up like Garrett- screwing himself out of a shockingly good place. It was a bad showing for sure, but in a way I am glad that Tony screwed himself out of going any further rather than Tony just getting dogpiled for Cagayan. Not only is it more fair, it makes for a far better story- sometimes winners just don’t perform as well on their second times.
Pity The Living
Their third times, however…
Look, I am going to be straight up with you- I do not think Sandra is long for the game at this point. I tried to be hopeful and optimistic, because I love Sandra, and basically any placement other than 1st about six more times will be too low for her legacy detractors. Still, she’s largely the same problem that Tony has albeit to a smaller scale- she is overcompensating for a target that is not as there as she may have feared it was. Luckily, however, she is overcompensating in the right direction, and busting a good handful of myths leveled against her while she’s here.
The first myth is that if her tribes went to the first set of Tribals, she would be an instant out on any season. This season, I don’t think her target was ever bigger. She’s a freaking two time winner, and the only other winners are Tony, and J.T. (whose last play saw an inconceivable blunder). Yet, she got zero of nineteen votes. Her record stays at one counting vote in about twenty-five vulnerable TCs. I still wonder how many people bribed the producers to have her stay unblemished so far in Mamanuca.
The second is “Sandra doesn’t make any big moves” because apparently that’s the one time people want to emulate Ciera. To that, Sandra went wicked fast and wicked hard in demolishing Tony. Remember when Varner marveled that Sandra put together a counter alliance against Tony in fifteen minutes? That’s a Tony move, against Tony, by Sandra. She went hard in the fucking paint and still snuck a vote onto Aubry in case an idol was played.
I’ve already discussed before that Sandra can and does make big moves when it feeds into her anyone but me strategy. This, however, I think was also for style points. I didn’t get a sense before that Sandra cared about those because those did not land in her bank account, but she’s been quite self-stylized this go-around, and she manages to make it work when it’s dangerously close to teetering over the edge to tryhard. Thus I am actually glad for any Sandra move that seems aimed to shut up the haters- she can pull it off.
The thing about Sandra is that not only is she currently defying the odds, she is doing so in a way that shows why her past gameplay worked and was exceptional. When she was confronted about who to target, she managed to turn it around over who was targeted and by whom so she could coast on that. When she fought with Tony on his way out, it was as he was building her up as a kingpin- her retorts were classic deflection through machismo. Little moments like these are so classically Sandra, yet were mixed with a lot of big moments, so the spotlight was finally put on them.
It is weird to talk about Sandra’s gameplay so much when Sandra is largely known as a character who has won twice. Even in her eighty-two minutes so far in Game Changers, she’s already provided a little plethora of fun character moments. The one that sticks out to me is after the Ciera tribal when Jeff throws the flint at her, she good-naturedly points out “Jeff, I wear glasses now, don’t throw nothing at me!” As someone on reddit pointed out, that is actually quite the powerful, sentimental little moment. Pearl Islands aired thirteen years ago, when Sandra was 28. She’s in her forties now.
While she may have always been a young mother during Survivor and herself has hardly changed, it shows that she has aged, and we are growing with her. I think that’s the most interesting part- aside from Varner salt-and-peppering in Cambodia we haven’t really seen a sign of aging in Survivor History quite like that moment, especially as the dominant returnees skew newer. For all his talk about changing, there’s no way in three seasons Spencer could bring to the forefront what Sandra casually referenced as a change in over twenty-five seasons.
Will the queen stay queen? I would argue that if the queen wins a third time I will fall out, but as far as I’m concerned not only is winning twice a good record for her, but she owns her crown. I think that her swagger, attitude, and abilities mean that she’ll always hold onto her crown.
The main story I noticed on Nuku was that of Cirie and her trying her damndest to Kool-Aid-Man the walls set up around her. This is what I feared would happen to her there- with J.T. and Ozzy already set up against her, I get the sense that she had zero chance, and a lot of the other stories there went invisible really quick or they were revolved around how no one gave two shits about Cirie and they were the villains for it. That’s really the Nuku story- Cirie tries to save herself, Ozzy and J.T. are sitting pretty and nursing their wounds over Cirie, and everyone she talks to shuts her down. I think we were supposed to get the sense that it wasn’t fair.
Look at those involved in her storyline from early on. Ozzy and J.T., especially Ozzy, were set up as her antagonists. Ozzy out of nowhere brought up Cirie voting him out in Micro while saying he was over it and also Cirie should go. J.T. just nodded along and went with it. She then talked to Tai, who babbled over himself while liking Cirie and essentially gave away the signal that she was in trouble.
After that, she tried to sway three people. The first, Sarah, sort of nodded and went along with it but clearly was giving half-effort. She claimed she was going to play like a criminal and not a cop after playing like one last time was certainly definitely 100% the reason she lost before. The second was Zeke, who said in confessional that she had a lot of his respect for being Cirie essentially, but that he knew how dangerous she was. It was an admirational take, but still a losing one. It was Debbie, however, that essentially became her antagonist. Many times, Debbie criticized her gameplay as a load of BS and mispronounced her name so many times I got To Tang flashbacks. It was clear that there was no respect communicated from her (towards anyone except herself) which is a shame since respect towards others made Debbie last season.
I will make a vast judgment call right now- anyone involved in the Cirie storyline- which I am going to be fair and say that I know is like 70% of the Nuku tribe- is dead in the water. Yes, that includes Cirie. I think they wouldn’t show their winner in such a vulnerable position, but also wouldn’t show her as so desperately trying if they weren’t trying to lionize her. Zeke is the only one I think has the slightest sign of legs of the seven of them as at least he was respectful and knowledgeable of her, but I would honestly rule out all of them in being in a winning storyline. Largely, they have shown themselves to be tied to Cirie, and wherever her story goes, the others will follow.
Featuring Others: The First Impressions
Possibly the biggest thing I can say about the preview is that it was surprisingly narrow. This didn’t change upon the last minute rewatch- while we got signs of greatness past and future from a good handful of players, a lot of the players either had little moments or were essentially sycophants for others’ storylines. I think as such they could be little flashes in the pan to cover, but at the same time, these are our first impressions of these returnees. It’ll be interesting to chronicle them.
Brad Culpepper- Look, Monica Culpepper is not the most respected player on Planet Earth. I think even Sucks tends to mock her and love her in irony. So the fact that her husband uses his time on the show to praise her unironically and try and play like her… it should be weird, but it’s actually really sweet.
J.T. Thomas- He had some stuff in a scene over Tai, but that was very narrative. His breakout scene will come next episode if the Next Time on Survivor is correct. If it is… hoo, it’ll be a hilarious first dose of beer bellied confused looking kooky J.T., and I cannot wait for it.
Sarah Lacina- I snorted when she said she had an excellent social game in Cagayan.
Sierra Dawn Thomas- She is mainly seen getting the Legacy Advantage (well, the upgraded one after Ken just kinda pooted his out in the finale) but it’s actually quite something how she seems to be at least a little involved with Nuku and its varied members yet not tangled up in the Cirie mess. So far, so good. I have faith in her to do well.
Andrea Boehlke- Honey, don’t feel too bad about that advantage. It literally only existed to Zeke before, no one is gonna blame you for missing it. Or… they will, but that would be stupid. I’m not giving up on my winner pick yet but I am feeling a sinking feeling.
Ozzy Lusth- What is it about his disingenuous way of speaking that always gets me? It’s like I’m being patronized through the Ami Tribal Council every time he talks about Cirie.
Zeke Smith- Not nearly as bad as he was in MvGX honestly. Geeky fanboy Zeke, I relate to, especially when he doesn’t act like top dog. When he does, however, and says this means he is a game changer, I just want to point to Caleb and hope he stops talking.
Debbie Wanner- Teeters on the edge of fun villain and annoying villain, but I don’t dislike anyone yet so that is a good sign. I like that we got a sign of why she was brought back with her abrasiveness and her referencing her jobs, but as I’ve said before, the magic isn’t there as much, since she’s got a tinge of bitterness with her this go.
Tai Trang- And speaking of “greatest hits of Kaoh Rong”, I love that what we get from Tai is essentially a lighter version of what we got that season. It’s a little simplistic and goofy, but it’s still quite Tai. I actually think it’s quite funny and telling of Nuku to have none of the chicken shit this go around.
Michaela Bradshaw- You know, until recently I remembered a few Michaela moments as moments, but I forgot last episode that not only was she funny, she was unique. From being one of the few to pull out words like “vernacular” like she’s Greg Smith, and her biting sarcasm when she was the decoy, it’s easy to forget that she’s funny in unconventional ways. I laughed at and with her antics about five times I didn’t expect to.
Troy Robertson- “Is your name Troyzan?” “Well, yeah, I think it is!”
Caleb Reynolds- Kind of over his “we have to keep the strong to the end or we’re all idiots” schtick- a bit of the nobody’s playing the game critique which is funny because he voted for Tony. He always had a hurdle to overcome for me to like him this season- which, honestly why should he give a shit- but the baseline for him was neutrality, and he slipped below.
Hali Ford- She didn’t get much content, but I liked her essentially being the Beans to Sandra’s rice. She had a few weird, oddly delivered, but fun lines. Her little “thanks for that paranoia” at Jeff at Tribal was pretty funny and fits her since she is naturally pretty suspicious.
Malcolm Freberg- While his confessionals were largely towards the activities of others, they were largely pretty fun. I liked how he retained his quick wit over the seasons even now when he isn’t the big deal he once was. It all feels pretty natural. Beyond that he is one of the few that got independent qualities as one of the “threats” and the reason Mana almost won the second challenge.
Aubry Bracco- Her fashion tastes are hilarious. I can’t tell if her look is awful or amazing, possibly both. She was good for a few UTR background moments, like her visibly working out the new tiebreaker rule. Otherwise, sad we didn’t see more of her.
Jeff Varner- “That was hell, listening to them argue.” *smash cut* “I’m in heaven!” Varner so far also plays the supporting character to others, but it’s all with a level of irony and humor at the antics that others pull. I will say this, though, if they wanted to pull off the worst Mana at challenges they would have cut Varner- seriously, is he only there to make Sandra look better? I’m just glad he was able to sass the other Jeff back when he was shit talked.
There are literally three minutes right now til the new episode so I am finishing this QUITE under the radar. Still, while this premiere didn’t define all its characters very well at all, it had a big conflict dumped on its plate. Wish it would have done more with them, but for what we got, it was as much of a show disruption as I could have predicted- it’s why I’m writing after all. Hopefully as we keep going we get more development for these fringe characters.