Survivor Autopsy: Mamanuca Islands 3: That Tribal Council

“So exciting and then ur like oh wait that fucking sucks” -random redditor

I mean, is there really any point in discussing anything but that insane Tribal Council? I mean, obviously I’m gonna say no to avoid making this article longer than it already is set to be, but really nothing too crazy happened except for that vote. We had that reward challenge with that atrocious #CoffeeIsForClosers hashtag that no one actually said, we had Ozzy fishing and setting out to be the provider for approximately the nineteenth time ever, and we had Varner telling his tribe to HAUL ASS HAUL ASS HAUL ASS at the immunity challenge. Those are neat little moments, but most of everything we saw this episode was either the vote or leadup to it.

Look, I think most people are winded by this vote and all the chaos of it. I know I was, still kinda am, but I’ve been gathering information about this vote if only to clarify things to myself. This was a Survivor first in a twist that I will go on record and say I absolutely hated. There was only one way this twist could have worked out- if Tavua had gone rather than Mana and if all the Nukus split the vote between Troy and Hali, the only two Nukus, as they were at the bottom anyways, and even that would prevent Troy from being able to idol out someone from Tavua.

I am not always a huge fan of swaps- at times they cement the majority and leave the minority nowhere to scramble (seriously, tell me what Jacquie Berg did wrong and I’ll buy you a drink). I am also not a big fan of idols as they can give someone with the majority of votes a get-out-of-jail-free card and send someone in that majority home. However, at least with swaps the majority can eat itself or a minority member can send themselves home, and with idols there is still a air bit of guesswork or connections needed for them to work and not be misplayed, and there are ways to stop idols from being effective.

This double tribal twist, I cannot see a way where it is less than bullshit. Either it’s basically a drawn out version of a swapfucking for someone in a tribe’s minority, it can give a tribe with larger numbers a free way to avoid voting out their members, it can give a potential loner or flipper go from one on a tribe to a free majority, or as we saw that night, an idol could be played and someone could go due to another tribe’s idol. I also am not a fan of the two tribes being prohibited from communicating- not only does it force the tribes talking at TC that Probst obnoxiously oh-gosh’d at, but it also meant that Tai could find an idol unhindered at his camp, which he would have a hard time doing with Nuku also there, and most certainly could not find secretly.

Still, that’s really as far as most of my opinions go. I will have some opinions on the goings-on of this TC, but for the most part it will be me narrating what the hell people were thinking for this vote. It will be very picture-heavy (like, I might add 5% to RTVWarriors’ storage) as I will be using stills from the Tribal Council, so prepare from that. Otherwise, this will largely be a different type of article as it will go by live events and not be sections about people or events. I don’t think I’m gonna make this a regular thing, but this particular vote needs it quite desperately.

Before Tribal


  • After the last vote, Hali tried to fish herself out of the bottom of New Mana. She talked to Debbie about eliminating Tai, but in confessional Debbie essentially told Hali to fly a kite and that she had no way out.
  • J.T., alone at New Nuku, hatched a plan to target Sandra, not only a two-time leader but the perceived leader. His only ally appeared to be Malcolm, who at the very least was giving him lip service, and acted as his only potential ally.
  • (In post-game interviews, which I will occasionally reference, Malcolm was legitimately considering working with J.T., though his desired target was Michaela. Regardless, from what he revealed, New Nuku was not as tight as it seemed, with Aubry and Sandra against each other and Varner never being a fan of ties).
  • After the Eleven-Person Tribal Council was announced, it appeared to be going along both old and new tribal lines. Nuku, filled with five Manas, and Mana, filled with four Nukus (yeah, it confuses me too) had their former tribesmates, J.T. of Nuku and Hali of Mana, as potential swing votes to them.
  • At Nuku, Sandra suggested “Sierra. Dawn. Thomas.” as their potential target, to force an Edgardo-ing and kick off a strong physical threat. J.T. said they should target Tai, but was shut down. Either way, it’s set in stone that Nuku is confident- either with J.T. or Hali, they would have six.
  • At Mana, they all were feeling the heat of having less numbers. Brad suggested voting out Sandra, hopeful they would lure J.T. in that way. Sierra suggested Malcolm, perceived to be their biggest physical player and the reason Nuku did well. Hali didn’t give strong input one way or the other.
  • Alone, Tai searched for and found the tribe’s Hidden Immunity idol and shared with his three other Nukus, but not Hali. This emboldened them- if they played their idol correctly they could decide their target.

The Tribal Council


The video for this whole Tribal Council is right here on the CBS YouTube page. After the season, however, if tradition holds it will be taken down. I know someone on who does unblocked videos that last after the season, but I don’t want the fuzz to go after them, so I don’t know them and you can’t message me to ask who they are and I certainly will not link you.

Regardless, here we go.

Brad: “We’re in what we in the business call a Mexican Standoff potentially. We got our guns against them, they got their guns against us. Question is, is one of their guns pointed against them, and is one of our guns pointed at ourselves?”
Sandra: “Jeff, all our guns are pointed at them.”

And there you have it. While Brad dances around the idea of there being a divide on Tribal Lines, Sandra goes straight for it, saying that all six of her tribe are set to fuck up his tribe. Now, Sandra had to know that J.T. could flip- she’s not Siska or anything- so this strikes me as lip service in a way that’s typical Sandra abrasiveness we have grown to know and love-hate over the years.

“Well, we have somebody in their six [J.T.] who used to be really really really close to us so…”

“She said the magic words: ‘used to’.”

Debbie is more forthright with her assertions that J.T. will swing to them. Some would say this is a bad move, but hell, no one talked and everyone expected J.T. (and Hali) were the swing votes so I doubt this damaged them. Sandra insists that he won’t flip since Old Nuku was in the past.

*raises hand* “Let’s look at the big picture. There are a lot of threats out here, and I think there are more threats on their team. You got Malcolm, and you got a two-time winner over there. That’s the biggest threat here!”

And so it begins. This is the first real shot in communicating to someone on the other tribe specifically. By doing his, Brad is telling potential swing J.T. who their targets are- Malcolm and Sandra.

“Oh, I’m not worried. I know I’m not going tonight, how bout that.”

The first person to make a Dr. Phil Meme reference, I shoot.

This could be construed as general arrogance, and perhaps it was just another brand of Sandra braggadocio. However, someone presented the theory that Sandra was being overconfident on purpose to fool anyone voting against her that she had an idol. Since Sandra is so cocky regardless, Mana could easily construe that she was blabbing about her idol. This may have taken the target off of her, but it also may have put it squarely on Malcolm, which is mixed. Sandra has always played with the “anyone but me” strategy, and Malcolm is not Sandra.

Also before you wonder anything, Malcolm claims that Nuku did look for the idol to get some extra security in their arsenal going in, so they didn’t just fool around with their numbers and wait to pick off a Mana.

TC6“…when these twists happen, it’s part of the game, but if it sent me home I’d be cussing my way down the ramp.”

You know, if half of us weren’t intently watching Sandra, this would be some really clear foreshadowing. Me, I was just too angry at this twist to believe they’d drive in how twistfucked the person would be.

Varner: “We talked about what could happen, what would happen, if each individual one of them had the idol, how that would go, and we ran through everything.”

Varner makes it clear that Nuku talked about idols extensively. That’s a given, but keep note of that. Also, Aubry has this “over it” face in nearly every shot and I am living for it.

TC8Brad: “As for Hali, should she not stay firm with us, she’s gonna be public enemy number one.”
Hali: “I don’t know, I mean, that’s not a good speech to, like, groom me in.”

Brad is playing a good game most of the time, but this threat right here may be the moment they lost Hali. Oh, she’ll be mostly loyal pre-merge, but right here, this shows that Brad doesn’t think of her as an ally, and that he would axe her. If Hali flips to her tribesmates at Old Mana (well, the two others that will likely remain at merge) this will likely be what caused it.

Sierra: “[Hali] you know where you stand with us.”
Michaela: “Yeah, on the outside, right where they put you.”

On a gameplay level, Michaela interrupts New Mana’s attempts to woo Hali to their side by trying to pull her over there, saying that they don’t value her. On an entertainment level, goddamn this is snappy. Also, she seems to think that Mana chose her Tribal Council seat, which is funny considering it picks up on her S33 trend of blaming the wrong people for SEG twists.

“…you have to go with us.”

That’s a good point- if Hali doesn’t know the Nuku plan to vote Sierra, she risks being on the outs if she tries voting alone. She has to vote with the Mana tribe.

“I think this is a stupid time to be thinking of anything except physical threats.”

Or she could do that.

I actually really love this move. It’s a subtle twofer that communicates something to both tribes. To Mana, it is her way of saying “vote Malcolm”, but her true intention is telling the Nukus to vote out Brad Culpepper, without getting any blood on her hands. Smooth and subtle, and satiating both sides.


And as such, Nuku caught the hint. At the very least, Sandra did. She whispers this to her entire tribe.


Keep note of this. J.T. thinks the Manas are targeting Sandra. He tells this to his closest/only Nuku ally Malcolm. This will be important later.

Aubry: “I feel like I just showed up at the wrong wedding or something.”

This doesn’t have any strategic significance. I just thought it was funny as hell. I’m glad Aubry is back.

“…do you think that they just switched?”


This is when tribes talking to each other and J.T./Hali cross talking got far less auspicious. Debbie does her best Tai impression and nearly macks on Brad whispering about a switch. She’s caught on that they may have switched to Brad, though she doesn’t seem to hold Hali responsible. At best, she thinks Nuku is trying to sway Hali, not the other way around.


Brad: “No it’s not.”

Sierra is right here, but I don’t blame Brad. This sounds like it could just be paranoia, and they themselves aren’t 100 on what the Nuku plan is. And it’s not like anyone is going to tell th-





Someday, historians will look back on this as the exact moment J.T.’s third game ended.

I get what he was hoping to do here. He thinks Nuku is voting Sandra. He hopes by telling them who to idol, they’ll play their idol, vote Sandra, and J.T. will go back to camp with a chance to survive. However, this plan has… let’s say, gaps in it.

  • J.T. was not subtle. Hali was subtle. J.T. had the grace of a mack truck hitting a flock of geese. You didn’t see it, but J.T. walked the length of Tribal Council and talked to Brad. Even if Sandra did go, who is going to go out thinking it was definitely not J.T. who did it, and even with Malcolm I highly doubt that people are J.T. fans on Nuku after that.
  • J.T. did not seem to realize that there were other ways to get rid of Sandra down the line, and for once voting out Sandra later strikes me as the right thing to do. I can only imagine he was trying to signify his loyalty to Old Nuku, but, again, he may as well have held up a red flag saying “fuck yourselves, Old Mana” while doing it.
  • J.T. told Brad down the line to vote Sandra. He did not say “please don’t vote Malcolm”. If he did and they ignored him, we can say he was definitely betrayed. However, since he didn’t, it’s possible they could have thought “thanks, now we can idol out Malcolm! J.T., what a guy.”
  • HALI WAS RIGHT FUCKING THERE. Jeez, who needs a spyshack, you can get information by sitting in plain sight.

J.T. had a plan, I can say that, but his HvV plan was a risk/reward thing where Russell did the right things for J.T. to believe him. His Mamanuca bungle, however, was poorly, poorly executed and had little thought behind it.

Hali: “Well, if that’s how it’s gonna be.”

J.T. has just burst the dam open, and Hali is not pleased at him.


If J.T.’s plan was to wreck Hali as bad as he wrecked himself, he may have accomplished it, as she more directly tells Nuku to vote Brad. Hali tells subtlety where to shove it and that’s the last we see of it. Again:


And rest in peace, subtlety, we’ll miss you.

Malcolm: “So how ya doing?”
Sierra: “I’m scared!”
Malcolm: “I just wet myself.”

I love this exchange during the chaos of everyone else getting up. It’s a perfect little accent.


And now no one has any shame. I just wanted to show a photo showing what they’ve dissolved to. The two tribes talking apart from each other, with J.T. and Hali walking between them. This is in part due to the stupid fact that they weren’t allowed to talk beforehand, but it’s really never been seen to this level.

JDA9fhProbst: “Oh my gosh!”

Shove your fake shock where the sun can’t shock it; you planned for this to happen.

“…and he’s a physical threat.”

Sandra has the right read on this.


I can’t tell if J.T. is trying to persuade the others to vote Brad because he told Brad it wasn’t him, but judging by his plan, he is probably persuading them against it as he hopes Sandra will get idoled. Like, how can J.T. vote Brad, he clearly would feel guilty over it.


Keep in mind Hali still doesn’t know that Tai has an idol for New Mana. Judging by last episode and the fact that they were from the same season, I think Hali and Sierra do have a connection, and Hali is saying she can only try and get votes off of Sierra. This makes her look like she’s working for them, and more to the point, working for Sierra, which helps her.


I’d feel the exact same way if I were in your shoes, Hali.


Tai still has not learned the concept of “fair warning” or “personal space”.


…oh. Oh yeah, maybe New Mana isn’t loyal to JT.

H1tadSMichaela: “I think you just have people who have personal relationships who need to realize they’re playing with a team right now.”

There you have it. The teams stay teams. Even though a team member semi-secretly told the other team how exactly he could fuck them over.

WmUorpSandra: “But we’re good, we’re good, we’re good. Nothing has changed.”

Right here is exactly where Malcolm’s torch snuffed. Sandra heard Hali recommend Brad Culpepper multiple times but New Nuku has officially decided that they’re going to stick with Sierra. As Malcolm claimed in his interview, he didn’t think they needed Hali because they were six strong and didn’t need to humor her by voting Brad, with only Sandra listening to her. Since Hali has heard that Sierra is getting votes from J.T. announcing it two feet away from Hali, it definitely perks her ears.

Probst: “It is, as the conversation continues, time to vote. Hali, you’re up.”tumblr_on92yfbRGm1w7ty5ho2_250

First off, I love this line. I think it is literally the first time someone has said no to Probst telling them to vote. It reminds me of Sophie, actually. Why does Hali not want to vote yet? I’m not sure, but I would guess she wanted to try and convince them they needed to vote out Brad, not Sierra.

“Hali, we can vote, we can vote.”

I actually like the way Sandra said this- it’s kind of motherly, and Sandra does well in the tiny details even when she slips on larger ones. However, it’s really the nail in the coffin for them. They’re decided and they just informed Hali there’s nothing she can do.

“Alright… you may regret it, but I’ll go.”

Hali takes the hint and, while doing a Pontius Pilate washing of the hands to relieve herself of guilt, lets them know she tried to help and gives up on turning them on Brad. As such, she leaves and the voting actually starts.


Sandra, not Michaela, says this. In some part, it seems very ignorant, but remember what Varner said approximately seven pages ago- his tribe discussed idols extensively. I highly doubt Sandra would just decide “okay, there’s no idols whatsoever”. I’m not 100% sure what her motivations were- maybe to prevent people from freaking out? One thrown vote by their side would lead to, at best, a tie.

XkMHVu“If you pull out an idol, I will soil myself.”

Ahaha, it’s been so long since we’ve had such a great voting confessional.


Tai plays the idol (at Brad’s suggestion) and when trying to find out who to play it for, Brad points at Sierra. It’s not hard to tell who’s in charge here.

Tai: “I’m gonna give it to… pretty lady!”

With panache, Tai essentially ends Nuku’s hopes and dreams there. Sierra has the idol, and the votes in the urn for Sierra do not count, and it’s largely thanks to J.T. telling them who to vote for and doing his part to prevent the voting of anyone else. This is, in effect, what he asked for.

(In Malcolm’s post-game interviews, he claimed J.T. realized he may have just fucked up, and eventually tried to sway the tribe into voting someone else, but didn’t give a name or a reason. I think if Brad or Malcolm went home, he felt he would lose, and it shows- he spent most of his time after his move essentially going into conniptions.)


And there it is. Officially, Sierra has six votes against her, all void.

Let me just say, I freaking love this vote reading. Despite all the chaos and humor beforehand, this is easily my favorite part. The music is fantastic foreboding and entirely new; it starts off quiet and despondent and grows slowly into something encompassing and dire (and it’s also a slower, more quiet version of the most recent “if anyone has a HII” music, which is a nice touch. Speaking of slowly, the vote read is also quite slow, letting us see how New Mana celebrates and how New Nuku copes

Additionally, it gives us just enough suspense over who on Earth Mana voted for- after all, the two mentioned are Sandra and Malcolm, two huge characters of the season. Sandra obviously has all eyes on her, and Malcolm is probably the biggest winner contender up until that point. We know the votes won’t magically wind up on someone else- one of these two are going home, and it will be tragic.

I love this. When people called this the Red Wedding of Survivor, it wasn’t just because Malcolm bit it. It was because it truly conveyed the feelings of dread and hopelessness. This twist was, again, bullshit, but the editing and execution of these eleven minutes is fantastic. Everyone gets a great moment, the dynamics are flawed yet fun, and we get to really see why these eleven were brought back- everyone was a star here, no matter how small they entered as.


I think that was me when I watched it.


And there we have it. J.T. just got his only ally voted out of the game. Keep in mind this is Hali’s vote. Because of how the Nukus handled it, Sierra was right- she had to vote Mana.

“Holy hell.”

I have always been a Malcolm fan. I think I had a moment seeing that vote where I was like “thank all the deities it wasn’t Sandra” but then I realized it was Malcolm and went “Nooooooo!” I think what really helps Malcolm excel as a character is that even when he’s on the bottom or on a shitty tribe, he’s always been a fast talking secretly nerdy openly cocky guy, with some flashes of vulnerability in between. Here, he’s entirely despondent and I feel for him.

He doesn’t make any quips until his final words where he says “J.T.’s not getting a Christmas card” (but ends up starting to cry), he reacts in what I can only describe as anguish, and his words are only a few dazed utterances like “holy hell”, and “I’m gonna vomit”, and his actions are like he barely realizes he’s there. It’s easily the most vulnerable that I’ve ever seen him, which is a great end to his character. My chest still gets tightened when I see him react. I love really all eleven who went to tribal and was gonna lose someone I loved regardless, but Malcolm’s reaction was everything I really expected from this situation.


As much as I piled on J.T. for this and probably will continue to, this is genuinely sad. I don’t think he even cried when he ate shit for all the heroes at the HvV merge. Here, he knows he screwed over his buddy in a way I think he’s still reeling from, and he feels genuine remorse. He knew that he had done something bad mid-TC, and the reaper collected. Not only that, you have to imagine he’s wondering how he’s gonna show his face back at Nuku.


Michaela has largely been the voice of reason in this Tribal Council, in large part because she doesn’t keep her mouth shut but also speaks the truth as she sees it far more than Sandra, who is more ready to play the mindgame. She’s the first to outright piece together that J.T. did that. She isn’t 100% right about him knowing- he did the act that screwed over a Nuku but he thought it would screw over another. Either way, Brad’s threat to Hali is prescient to J.T.- he just became public enemy number one, in a huge way.

And… scene.

Too long; didn’t read


I can imagine this would take years to sit through, and if it didn’t clarify things to you quite clearly enough, this is what happened. If you’re a Rhodes scholar and got it, feel free to skip this- I won’t be mad, promise.

J.T.’s only true ally on Nuku was Malcolm, and he planned to vote Sandra with him and a few others. On Mana, Hali tried to worm in but was essentially stonewalled. When the two tribes were set to go to the same Tribal, however, it was as Hali said: the tables have turned. Sandra overrode J.T.’s suggestion of Tai to suggest Sierra as she was a physical threat unlikely to have an idol. However, Tai found the idol on Mana and shared it with the old Nukus, who felt freer to either vote Sandra or Malcolm.

At Tribal Council, both sides attempted to keep their swing votes and sway the other ones to joining them. There was also intimidation on both sides, most notably from Sandra, who claimed she wasn’t going home, potentially swaying others from voting her out of fear of idols. However, Brad went a step too far and intimidated Hali into staying, which the Nukus picked up on.

Hali announced that this was the time to get rid of physical threats, hinting at Brad while sounding like she was hinting at Malcolm. Sandra picked up what she was putting down, telling the rest of the tribe Hali wanted to vote Brad. This caused J.T. to go to Brad and tell him his tribe settled on voting Sierra, and to vote Sandra, which would put his biggest threat to survival out of the game without him voting her. However, he did not tell them about his friendship with Malcolm.

After this, all hell broke loose. Hali went straight to Sandra and outright told her to vote Brad, though when Sierra asked Hali indicated she was trying to get the target off of Sierra. However, J.T. claims he told Brad he was safe. That, and the Nukus feeling they didn’t need Hali, meant they stuck with their original plan. Hali noted this and decided to abandon that plan and stick with her tribe.

After the vote, Tai plays her idol on Sierra by Brad’s recommendations, as he got the information from J.T. This negates six votes against Sierra, meaning New Mana (plus Hali) decided the boot. They decided on Malcolm, J.T.’s only friend, as they felt he was the Nuku’s biggest physical contributor. After Malcolm left, Michaela was the first to claim J.T. set them up, blowing his cover.

In Conclusion

I think I’ve made my point clear, right? I’ve said many times I hate this twist, and I do, for many reasons. I will always claim this was a bad twist we haven’t seen since the fuckery of the middle seasons. Yet, I would be lying if I said a lot of what made it unfair is also what made it great TV. The idol, the tragedy, the cross-talking, the vote felt like life or death. Add to that eleven characters who made the Tribal better in their own ways, and you have a horrid twist with a dynamic outcome.

I predict that the fallout from this will be massive. Will Hali be able to trust the New Manas? Who will flip their shit at J.T. on Nuku? What will he do now that he got his best friend voted out? Why the hell is Debbie screaming at her tribe in the Next Time? I have zero clue, but I am eager to find out on all of these things.

I hope they don’t try a bunch of shitty twists in this season, but this one at least made good TV.


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